10 rules for exceptional web copy (by writers who do it all the time)

As a specialist web copywriting agency, we’ve work across hundreds of enterprise websites, apps, publications and platforms. We’ve got the intel and expertise on what type of content drives bottom-line results and engagement. Here are our ‘Ten Commandments’ for what makes great online copy.

Oooh - could you do a web writing workshop?

The importance of exceptional web copy is undeniable for growing your business. According to Forbes’ 2023 website stats, you have 5.59 seconds – shorter than choosing a lunch order – to grab a reader's attention, deliver your key message, and keep them engaged.

No sweat, right?  

The cold hard truth is that writing copy for your website takes sophistication, strategy, and a whole lot of iterating. It is not the same as writing a brochure, TV ad or even content article... or just jumping on ChatGPT. If your copy style is too waffly or insincere (and not optimised), you’re dead in the water before you start.  

If you’re a marketer who cares deeply about your customers, here’s how professional copy can be your secret weapon - especially if you’re considering a new or existing digital project.

Here are our ten rules:

  1. Content strategy before copywriting
  1. Understand the importance of SEO writing
  1.  Always work with UX in mind
  1. Digital content must be brutally simple to understand
  1. Less is more
  1. Hone your tone of voice
  1. Champion the visual
  1. Use AI as a creative partner, not a content expert  
  1. If you can afford it, go external (here’s why!)
  1. Ongoing quality control and the right governance structure are a must

1. Content strategy before copywriting

Here at BOW, we’re all crazy hiking enthusiasts (well, ninety percent of us anyway). Whether it's a long or short trek, the golden rule is to set off with a clear roadmap to a pre-determined destination - and to tell those who care where you’re going, right? The same goes for writing.

Working on a strategy will prevent you from getting lost on the way, retracing your steps, or taking unnecessary time (and money!) to reach your destination.  

We did some work recently for one of Aotearoa’s top real estate brands. The client charged us with launching into a full website rewrite, but we identified early on that we needed to take a step back and get our strategic ducks in a row; define brand personality, tone and business goals – none of which were clearly on paper yet.  

We swiftly launched into gathering direct insights and data from head office experts, and external stakeholders (agents and clients) which helped us all immensely to redefine business and audience needs and therefore the task at hand. It also helped us get the entire company on board with a new content roadmap.

Not every project demands a full content strategy, but even if it is simply a page of copy, you need to do the strategic work up front.

Planning on overhauling your website? Read our Content Audit and Strategy Survival Guide.    

Here is an overview of what your content strategy should cover

Determine intent: A good digital writer will start by asking the right questions about the website – if not every page.  

What’s the purpose of the site? The page? Who are your audiences? What do they need?

What do you want them to do as they’re interacting with your content?

Understanding the audience and goals doesn’t just lay the groundwork for great copy, it establishes metrics for you to measure against.  

Master your product knowledge: Deep dive into your product or service using all qualitative and quantitative resources available (research, data, user feedback etc).  

Know your key messages: Craft clear, concise key messages for each page. Think of them as direction signs guiding users to take the next action.

Draft the flow: Map out the user journey (site structure, navigation). Is it a maze or a welcoming hallway? Smooth flow keeps people engaged.

'Stress test' your site map: Make sure your structure and copy align with overarching business objectives and that people can actually get from A to B.  

2. Understand the importance of SEO writing

You’re a marketer, so you understood a decade ago why ranking highly in Google is the meaning of life. Today, 53% of all website traffic comes from organic search (BrightEdge Research).  

You’ve got the right keywords on the page – but why is it not working?  

No matter how well-written your copy (with keywords to boot), if you don’t employ a variety of technical and on-page SEO techniques, your primary audiences may not ever land on your page.  

Remember that SEO should be baked into your content strategy and your writing. It’s not something you can shoehorn in afterwards. Start with the needs and desires of your ideal audience, then do your research. Once you’ve got your topics and keyword research buttoned down, create well-structured content that answers your audience’s questions and is easy for them to engage with.

While SEO should guide your copywriting strategy, it shouldn’t rule everything – including your creativity.    

Here are some do’s and don’ts for on-page optimisation from our BOW SEO experts:


  • Write original and useful content for your target audience
  • Make sure to map your target keywords to your webpages, choosing one focus keyword or topic per page
  • Use long-tail keywords and phrases
  • Expand the reach of your primary keywords by using related keywords
  • Create head-turning headlines
  • Still cover the basics like relevant meta descriptions, alt tags and titles
  • Structure and lay out your content thoughtfully so that it is easy and engaging to read
  • Include internal links that keep the user within your site’s ecosystem
  • Keep an eye on your metrics


  • Put all your keywords on one page
  • Create misleading links that don’t deliver on the promise of the content
  • Don't keyword stuff!!!
  • Allow SEO to dictate your copy

3. Always work with UX in mind

Think of your website like an airport. UX copy should help users get from A to B simply and quickly.

We asked Lil Cameron, one of our seasoned UX writing specialists, the difference between a general copywriter and a UX copywriter.

"I think the most helpful way of thinking about it is that copywriting persuades, while UX copy enables. Copywriting often involves more personality, while UX writing focuses on clarity as the key priority, although in some cases, you want a dash of both.

In a very narrow sense, UX writing is about helping users get to where they want to go, whether it's the copy on a button or an error message.

When you're thinking about how you break copy up into pieces, when to tell people what, and in what level of detail, and how this message will flow on throughout the site, you're playing in UX writing land.

Which can really change your perspective on the small but important pieces.  

Every button label, error message, chatbot prompt, and on-screen instruction you write should be clear, concise, and helpful so that your user can navigate, feel comfortable and just get stuff done.

Many clients don’t consider that it can also be an opportunity to have a little fun and bring their brand voice to life - and show a good level of service. Take your time to get each word right.

We strongly advise that if you’re developing a new website, consider investing in support from a dedicated UX team, rather than relying on developers or your in-house web teams.  

As Lil suggests, “Bland or unclear UX copy can mean losing your audience – so don’t underestimate this as a crucial part of content design”.  

4. Digital content must be brutally simple to understand

Thomas Jefferson said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” He spoke to the truth of great writing in all its forms – don’t make your reader work to understand what you’re trying to say. This is especially true of digital copy.

The best digital writers understand the importance of simplicity, and to be fair, most of the clients we work with understand this concept – it's Marketing 101. Yet what is often misjudged, is how easy it is to actually do it.  

Writing simply is one of the hardest parts of a content job – and it takes skill and experience. So here are a few tips on our process.  

Consider how you’ll communicate complex messages in a way that the average reader can understand without belabouring them with details. And importantly - what style of language you should use that fits your brand personality.  

On each page or section, we ask: Is all of this copy necessary? Is this the best word? Does this word, sentence, paragraph serve the page purpose?

5. Less is more  

Here’s a startling statistic: In the last two decades, the average human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to 8.25 seconds.  

Professional copywriters must always write with this top of mind, especially for mobile audiences. In some recent jobs (for one of New Zealand’s biggest charities, an Australasian bank, and one of the nation’s biggest commercial property developers), we our primary objective was that the content be ‘mobile first’, which means everyone designed and iterated with mobile screens in mind, before desktop.

For websites, as well as longer form content like blog articles, here are some tips for optimising copy for readability:

  • Write short paragraphs and keep it to one idea per paragraph
  • Use simple sentences and don’t be afraid to be conversational
  • Break down large sentences and ideas into bulleted lists
  • Use font size and formatting strategically to guide the reader’s eye
  • Add whitespace: huge blocks of texts are overwhelming
  • Use an active voice instead of passive (eg; ‘The kids have cleaned the kitchen’ rather than the passive, ‘The kitchen has been cleaned’).

6. Hone your tone of voice

You may have a picture of exactly how you want your content to sound, the tone you want, and a clear idea of what sets your business apart within your industry.

But in our experience, often the biggest obstacle a copywriter faces, is finding the tone that resonates with the audience, as well as being authentic for the business.  

BOW Writing Director, Gary Norris, explains,  “Your brand ‘tone of voice’ is how you communicate with your audience; what you say and how you say it. This content and tone should be consistent across all your comms.

Curating a tone for your brand and then being consistent with its use, is how you establish a strong and recognisable brand identity. It speaks volumes about your brand and what you stand for.”  

To nail tone of voice at BOW, we’ll always explore your inate brand values and discover the essence of your brand, its personality. We'll also audit your currrent comms to make sure they are working hard enough.  

Gary says, “It’s essential to explore how to craft an authentic tone, one that appeals to your various audiences".

At BOW, we’ll get under the hood of your brand but also consider how your direct competitors structure their writing, as well as look at what best-in-class brands are up to.  

"I find that one of the best ways to help a client in this space, is to show before and after examples. So we'll restructure a piece of communication that's already in use, to show how it could be improved".

That’s often when people really understand the transformation and say, ahhhhhhh – I get it, that's why we hired you!”  

Striking the right balance is an ongoing process of refinement, especially if you decide to take this on in-house. But nailing this aspect keeps your copy dynamic and engaging and will give you a strong and authentic brand presence.  

7. Champion the visual

Tone of voice is often at the heart of customer experience and marketing development (as it should be!), but too often we see visuals considered as an afterthought. We believe they should be valued equally.

Using pictures, especially moving ones, elevates your messaging. A good digital writer knows that video, animation, and graphics are worth their weight and help tell the story, especially if the information is complex or you’re explaining a process. It also helps SEO.

Visual design also helps balance fun and function on your page. It allows you to get your point across in more creative ways that delight your audience and encourage them to hang out, explore your site, subscribe to your content. (It’s also a hell of a lot more fun to design as a creative writer!)

But hold the bus, don’t just start throwing imagery on the page. Coupling text and images for brands is a learned skill and may not be intuitive if you’re just starting or don’t have dedicated guidelines established yet – so prioritise this (with examples) ASAP.  

Remember that in general, free or stock imagery is bland and frankly off-putting. Imagery that’s the right feel and consistent that reflects you and your people makes copy sing on a page – and when we work with partners who get that, we love it.  

8. Use AI as a creative partner, not a content expert

The big question: should you use AI in your content writing? Heck yes – but as a creative tool, not a replacement for an expert copywriter.  

The truth is, while today’s generative AI can shave time and effort off content creation, it's still often inaccurate and loaded with some undesirable stylistic techniques (unless you really love excessive metaphors).  

BOW co-founder Sue Worthington says it's an opportunity to build on ideas even when you don't have your team around.

“Like any good creative partner, they can help you with your strengths and weaknesses. For example, I’ve always hated proofreading. And I’m not a 100% confident writer. These are my idiosyncratic weaknesses as a creative. So I've been using Google's Bard to help me with that. When I've finished writing something, I ask Bard to proofread it for me. Then I ask it to evaluate what I've written, and it gives you constructive feedback.”

So, use AI as a baseline and creative sandbox. Then get to the real writing.

9. If you can afford it, go external

In the changeable and sometimes fickle digital landscape, working with a professional copywriting service can be a worthwhile investment. Partnering with content specialists allows you to tap into their expertise for content strategy, UX design, SEO, brand development, and quality control, ensuring that your content is optimised and resonates perfectly with your brand identity. The result? Engaging copy that not only grabs your audience but performs the way you want it to.

Entrusting your content to a skilled external writer not only saves time and effort, but it’s also a great opportunity to upskill your own team in copywriting. If you’re looking for digital content support for your next big project, we’re here to help.

10. Ongoing quality control and the right governance structure are a must

Part of our service, over and above partnering with clients to produce beautiful new websites and copy, is to help businesses consider the future and to set up processes so that future content can be produced and updated in-house.  

A tight quality control process is a critical step that shouldn’t be overlooked once a new website and/or new copy is signed, sealed and live.  

In a nutshell, when a big project is close to launch, we often help clients set up systems like content standards and maintenance processes, which maintain the integrity of what’s been done to date.

We help define how digital teams can drive and measure success (metrics in SEO, brand engagement and leads/sales, how to physically update the site (and the systems/processes to consider, including who has final say on content), and even how to restructure digital content teams to make the most from a new platform.  

Here are some tips on keeping your new content or website up to date:

  • Produce written standards and guidelines: Brand considerations like tone and copy style or visual identity, should all be documented and easily accessed by internal/external stakeholders who will be contributing to future content.
  • Check that your on-page content aligns with objectives: Continue to review keywords, headings, and other on-page elements for SEO.
  • Interrogate all new copy: Consider accuracy, consistency, and key messaging and UX flows. Make sure all new content is engaging, easy to understand, and takes the user on the best possible journey.
  • Measure, measure, iterate, and then measure.

New site? Establish a feedback loop and sign off process (governance):

Future changes/additions to pages should be a collaborative process of revising and revising (and maybe some more revising) – but you don’t want every woman and her dog accessing the CMS either. Otherwise, the integrity of the original content will fly out the window and the site could end up like a dog’s dinner.

So drop us a line if you need advice on setting up the right QI and digital content process/teams.

At the end of the day, we want clients to get the most of a key investment and keep evolving for digital greatness!

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