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Weaving Your Web

Here are seven must-know strategies to create an enticing, business-focused Web site.

If you intend to freelance in the business world, you can probably get away with not having a Web site. But I wouldn't recommend it. All other considerations aside, writing Web copy is a major source of revenue for most freelance copywriters today.

If a client asks, "What's the URL for your Web site?" and you respond, "I don't have one," he'll be reluctant to hire you for online copywriting assignments. After all, if you don't have your own Web site, clients will wonder how much you really know about online marketing.

And because online writing is becoming a large percentage of copywriting work, cutting yourself off from these assignments will have a significantly negative effect on your revenues. Many copy-writing clients are looking for a writer who can handle both their online and offline work, so being perceived as a writer lacking Web savvy may cost you print assignments.

Here are seven tips to help you weave your web:

1. Register a branded domain name. As a writer, your brand is your name, so build your domain name around it. My Web site is www.bly.com. (Avoid domain names that are plays on the word "writing.")

2. Design your Web site to cater to the interests and needs of potential clients, not casual Web surfers. Don't post content just because it's fun or amusing. Everything on your Web site should work toward a single goal: persuading potential clients to hire you for a writing assignment.

3. Organize your site so potential clients can find what they're looking for quickly and easily. Keep the layout simple. Go to my site and you can see that all the content is available from a menu of clearly labeled choices on the left side of the screen.

4. Think about what potential clients ask you for when considering whether to hire you, and then provide those answers on your Web site. As a freelance copywriter, the two most frequent questions I'm asked are, "Who are your clients?" and "Can I see some samples of your work?" So I have a "clients" page that lists clients in alphabetical order by category (e.g., "ad agencies," "banks," etc.).

5. Your online portfolio—samples of your work that prospective clients can view and read with a few mouse clicks—is probably the most important selling feature of your freelance writing Web site. On my portfolio, I display a wide selection of samples, organized by category (e.g., "ads," "direct mail," etc.).

When you click on the category, you see a list of samples within that category labeled according to the client's name. Click on a sample label and you see a screen filled with thumbnails of every page of the sample. You can then click on each page to blow it up to a size where the text is legible.

6. If you've published articles, allowing visitors to view them adds tremendous value to your site and may prompt them to return periodically. Don't charge visitors for the privilege of reading your articles. The Web is a medium where offering free content is an effective marketing strategy, and it costs you nothing to post your articles and offer them for viewing.

7. Have a page on your Web site with pictures and descriptions of any books you've written. Link these descriptions to Amazon.com so the visitor can buy the book online with a mouse click. Join Amazon as an affiliate and you'll get a small commission on each sale. To do this: Go to the Amazon home page and click on the "Sell Your Stuff" tab, then click on the "Associates" tab to register.

One other point: Offer site visitors free content in exchange for their e-mail address (e.g., a free subscription to an online newsletter or a special report available as a downloadable PDF). In this way, you can quickly build a database of site visitors. By e-mailing these subscribers your newsletter, plus solo e-mail messages with special offers—an invitation to a speech you're giving or perhaps an announcement about the publication of your new book—you can quickly convert Web visitors into customers.

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