But this has been the foundation on which I have built every line of copy and content I have written over the past 30 years. It worked when I started out, and it still works now.
Here is the basic approach
Before you write any content or copy for a web page (or for any other medium), imagine the person who will be reading the page is actually sitting in front of you.
Let’s say it’s a friend of yours, and you’re having coffee together.
Your friend has a problem and wants to raise the topic with you because he or she knows you are something of an expert in that area.
So your friend asks you a question. For example, it might be, “Jack, I want to pay more into my retirement fund, but I still have some credit card debt to pay off. Which is more important…adding to my retirement fund or paying off the cards?”
Yes, your friend has a problem and is actively seeking advice and help.
Now imagine you are an expert on this subject and actually work as a financial advisor. And think about how you would answer.
You wouldn’t go into a long lecture about what a great financial advisor you are. Nor would you immediately take out a handful of sales brochures.
Acting in your capacity as a friend, as well as an expert, you would probably ask a few questions first, just to be sure you really understand the problem.
And when you did start offering some advice, you would want to be helpful.
You would want to offer some genuine guidance. And if you did have some services you could offer, you would recommend only those services that were directly relevant to the problem.
After all, this is a friend you are talking to, not some anonymous “prospect”.
In addition to being sincere in your desire to help, you would also talk in a way that would help your friend understand.
You certainly wouldn’t use the kind of language you use when talking with your fellow financial advisors. And if you did have to use any technical terms, you would make sure you explained them thoroughly, to be sure that your friend understood.
Being a good person, and having information that could be important to the financial health of your friend, you would feel a certain responsibility.
You would want to make sure that you had correctly identified your friend’s real problem. And you would want to be very sure that any advice or products you offered really would help solve the problem.
Now think about your web site pages…
Does each page address a problem your reader might have?
Is the content on the page directly relevant to solving that problem?
Is any advice you offer genuinely useful?
If you recommend any products or services to your readers, do you truly believe in them? Would you recommend them to a friend?
The style of writing and the language you use – is it the kind of language you would use when talking with a friend while sharing a coffee together?
Do you avoid technical terms and, if you have to use them, offer a clear explanation?
In other words…
On the pages of your site, do you write, recommend and sell with the care and sincerity you would when talking with a friend?
Do you write in a way that is easy to understand and follow?
As I said, I apply the “help a friend test” to everything I write.
I paint a picture in my mind of one or two typical prospects.
I picture the problems they might have (relating to the topic of the page).
I then think about how I can solve that problem. And I express my answer in language which is simple, clear and sincere.
And if I recommend a product or service, it’s because I genuinely believe it could be helpful in addressing the reader’s need or problem.
It’s not a complicated approach. It’s not so hard to do. And it works.
NOTE: For professional-grade training in writing both copy and content for the web, check out my program, Copywriting 2.0. As far as I know, it is the only program that addresses all aspects to writing for the web, including writing web content with the “help a friend” approach.
About the author: Nick Usborne is an online writer, copywriter, author and coach. Read more…
(This article was first published on my Excess Voice website back in 2007.)