When writing for the web, you should keep in mind that people read differently online than they do when they read print materials – web users typically scan for information. Web copy is scanned, not read. Readers are hunting for information or products. Using plain language allows them to find what they need, understand what they have found, and then use it to meet their needs.
Identify Your Users’ Goals
In print, readers delve deep and are not easily distracted by things to click on. People online are task focused rather than looking for an immersive experience. When developing your site’s content, keep your users’ tasks in mind and write to ensure you are helping them accomplish those tasks. If your website doesn’t help them complete that task, they’ll leave. Knowing your users’ top tasks can help you identify:
- Content to feature on your homepage or landing pages
- Page headers and sub headers
- A logical structure to each page’s content
KISS – Keep it Simple, Stupid!
Whether you’re writing about the latest scientific advancement, or unveiling secrets of great historical pith and moment, your audience has to be able to understand what they’re reading. This means keeping things simple – writing about complicated stuff in an uncomplicated way for the benefit of the layperson. So how do you ensure that you’ve got the know-how as well as the can-do this requires?
- Use short paragraphs four sentences max;
- Use short sentences – twelve on average;
- Skip unnecessary words;
- Avoid jargon and gobbledygook;
- Avoid the passive tense;
- Avoid needless repetition;
- Address your web visitors directly. Use the word “you”;
- Shorten your text.
Use the inverse pyramid to structure your content. Start with the most important information, follow with supporting details, and finish with related information.
Develop an eye for aesthetics. If you notice your copy has excessive line breaks, fix it. Bullets are a great way to improve the scannability of your text. You can enhance those bullets by adding titles and sub-headers (when appropriate).
Write clear links. Don’t create links that use the phrase ‘click here.’ Write the sentence as you normally would, and place the link anchor on the word or words that best describe the additional content you are linking to. Between one and five words is the ideal length for an effective hypertext link.
Proof it, Baby!
Test your links. Remove typos. Get extra sets of eyes to vet your grammar and sentence structure. Copy errors reflect on your business and your reputation. Take this step seriously.
- Online readers are self-absorbed and task-focused. Make sure they can complete their task, quickly and easily;
- Create a list of user tasks or goals to guide your content creation process and to ensure your readers can complete their tasks;
- Use plain language. Even the most sophisticated users appreciate straightforward writing. Keep your sentence structure simple and avoid uncommon words, slang and jargon;
- Keep content short and to the point. Consider what information the user is seeking and make it immediately available. Avoid excessive introductory text – phrases like “welcome to this web page”;
- Front-load the important information. Start with the content that is most important to your audience, and then provide additional details;
- Format your writing by bolding relevant words and use bulleted lists to make it easy for users to scan content;
- Hyperlinks should be descriptive and explain the action;
- Get extra sets of eyes to vet your grammar and sentence structure.