Education

Website Copywriting And The Vital Lesson My Anti-Social Neighbor Taught Me

One of the best lessons I ever learned about writing for the web came from an anti-social neighbor. And, strangely enough, I wasn’t anywhere near the internet at the time.
It happened 11 years ago when I moved to a small town in Surrey in the UK and tried to ingratiate myself with some of the locals. Most were pleasant, but one lady called Janice, who lived across the road, was proving a tough nut to crack.
My attempts to be sociable were all met with a scowl. Polite inquiries about how she was, generated only an unintelligible grunt. For some reason, this woman seemed unwilling to be my friend.
Shock of my life
Then one day, while mowing the front lawn, I got the shock of my life. I looked up to see Janice approaching with a big smile. At last, I thought, all my efforts were paying off.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Janice had simply popped over to ask if she could borrow my lawn mower for the weekend.
Against my better judgment I said yes, hoping this would bring about a change in her attitude, but it wasn’t to be. Once she’d got what she wanted, she reverted to her old self.
Over the years I knew her she never deviated from this behaviour pattern. When she wanted something, she was charm itself. When she didn’t, she was unfriendly to the point of rudeness.
Valuable lesson
I suppose I should hate Janice for acting in such an un-neighbourly way. But the truth is I am indebted to her because she taught me a valuable lesson.
Like it or not we humans are selfish beings. OK, Janice is an extreme example, and thankfully few people ever come close to her level of selfishness. But it’s fair to say most of us have a selfish streak.
So why not use it to our advantage? It turns out we can do this very easily, because one of the best ways to get people to do what we want, is to appeal to their selfishness, or, as I prefer to think of it, their self interest.
This is especially true on the internet, when you are trying to draw people to your website and persuade them to stay.
The fact is most people surfing the net are on a mission. They are not reading your web pages to be kind, or to find ways of helping you. Quite simply, they are after something.
Website copywriter
If you, as a website copywriter, can work out what that something is and then provide it, your visitors are likely to reward you.
They can reward you in a number of ways. For example, by spending more time on your site, by bookmarking it, or by recommending it to friends and colleagues. Better still they may click on one of the ads on your site, or make an inquiry about one of your products and services, or best of all actually buy something from you.
By providing them with material of value that serves their self interest, you open up endless possibilities for your site.
Introducing the Janice Principle
Maybe this seems an obvious point, but it took me several encounters with an unfriendly neighbor to work it out. That’s why I call it my Janice Principle. And it boils down to this.
If you want to be effective in your website copywriting, you need to find ways of pandering to the self interest of your visitors. You need to understand what missions they are on and then look for ways of helping them fulfill those missions.
Six years ago Janice moved up north to be with her daughter. Today, I’m not exactly sure where she is. But wherever that may be, I will always be grateful to her for the lesson she gave me in human psychology and the insight it gave me into how to be an effective website copywriter.

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