23 simple tips on writing for the web

by Peter Crocker

Writing for the web is not the same as writing for a brochure or magazine. There are many essential differences that you need to consider. Here are 23 simple tips I’ve picked up over the years.

According to usability guru Jakob Nielson, reading from computer screens is 25% slower than reading from paper, and 79% of readers scan the content of a website rather than reading the content word by word. Web copy also has the ability to be interactive and obtain a direct response from the reader.

There is a lot of debate around about long copy vs. short copy as well as many proven techniques for aggressive direct response copywriting, but those are not the topic of this article. These are general tips for writing quality content for your business website:

Scannability:

1. Use headings that summarise the key benefit/function of the page to show reader that they are in the right place.

2. Cover most important points first by writing in the ‘inverted pyramid style’ – start with the conclusion, followed by the supporting information and ending with the more detailed background information so that readers can stop at any time and still get the most important points.

3. Use short, succinct and punchy text with lots of bullet points, tables and sub-headings making information scannable and easy to absorb.

4. Generally use relevant, meaningful headings and subheadings, rather than obscure ‘clever’ ones that make people work to understand the meaning – this is also very helpful for search engines.

5. Less is often best – aim to keep pages to between 100 and 400 words unless detailed business or technical content needs to be explained, or there is a specific need for long copy.

6. Use simple sentence structures – if you’re struggling with punctuation it’s probably too complex.

7. Use bold text more frequently than you would in print to highlight benefits and key points.

8. Information should be broken into manageable chunks to make it easy to read on screen.

9. Include one idea per paragraph as readers will often skip over any additional ideas if they are not included in the first few words in the paragraph.

10. Consider presenting complex or in-depth information in downloadable PDF documents or ‘more information’ links rather than as long sections of unbroken text.

Language:

11. Establish credibility – avoid exaggerated claims or overly boastful language and where possible include links to other sites with supporting information or quotes.

12. Use plain English and avoid the use of jargon or industry insider terms.

13. Use language which is emotive, friendly and contemporary – not verbose or stuffy.

14. Use the active rather than the passive voice (e.g: ‘request more information’ not ‘more information can be obtained by clicking here’).

15. Ensure accuracy – grammatical errors or bad grammar can detract significantly from the brand impression.

16. Generally avoid writing in uppercase as it is harder to read.

Navigation:

17. Not everyone will enter your site from the home page so each page must include enough information to make sense to someone who came to the page directly through a search engine.

18. A clear and distinct call to action should be included on pages to direct the user as to where they should go next in the sales process.

19. The vast majority of your visitors will likely be looking for the same three or four main things, so make sure it is simple for these things to be found easily.

20. Avoid transitional language like ‘as mentioned above’ or ‘on the next page’, web pages are not read in order like an essay or magazine.

Links:

21. Make sure links are relevant and add valuable information – don’t link just because you can or readers will get lost by clicking off to different sections.

22. Underline links, and avoid using underlining anywhere else.

23. Use descriptive links such as Download an ABC fact sheet now>, rather than ‘Click here’.

Not all these ideas will apply all the time and no doubt there are countless more tips. Do you have a favourite ‘do’ or ‘don’t’ when it comes to writing for the web?

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