Website copy 101: the difference between adding value vs. taking up space

BY Joseph Phillips
Good web copy strikes a balance between your needs and those of your target audience. If it’s just about you—you’re taking up space.
Empty theatre seats

Photo by Felix Mooneeram from StockSnap

One of the biggest mistakes brands make when authoring their website pages is to write for an imagined audience who are interested by default in what you have to say.

When in reality, copy needs to be written from the exact opposite perspective. I.e….

For people who are ordinarily completely uninterested in us, but for whom we can think of contexts in which they may have a need for our product, service, or support of some kind… what needs to be communicated to them?

And what we’ll probably find when we honestly answer that question is that a lot of the self-congratulatory fluff that we enjoyed writing, and we the brand enjoy reading back to ourselves to reinforce the story that we like to tell about ourselves, is neither enjoyable nor useful to anyone else out there.

It just gets in the way of getting on.


Are you adding value—or just taking up space?


Content is how we communicate on the web.

And as Sally Hogshead puts it:

Every time you communicate, you’re either adding value—or taking up space.

It doesn’t matter if you’re attempting to strike up a conversation with someone at a dinner party, selling yourself at an interview, or indeed, publishing something online:

Connection happens when we communicate in ways that resonate with the shared interests and needs of another person.

Venn diagram: How connection and value is created

Brands are really no different to people—because they are people. A brand is simply the collective interests and needs of people, channelled into a unified cause.

Brands all wish to be truly seen and heard by others. To connect. To be understood and valued.

No matter who you are, the only route to being seen, understood, and valued, is to see, understand, and add value to others.


Venn diagram: a list of a brand's values and interests vs. an audience's.


High-performing brand websites are those where the organisation has managed to get out of its own way, and deftly present well-researched, concise, actionable copy that genuinely resonates with its audience’s interests.


The art and science of value-adding (not space-stealing) copy for the web


When we realise that our website exists to resonate with our audience’s interests and values rather than ramble on like that person at cocktail parties who loves the sound of their own voice, we can adapt your style of communication to suit.

This is a huge aspect of what makes good copywriting for the web: understanding who exactly it is you’re writing for, and what they need from you (as opposed to just saying what you feel like saying because it pleases you).

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