Writing for the web has unique requirements because of how people read on screens. We tend to scan content quickly on our smart phones or laptops rather than reading thoroughly.
Here are the top eight things you need to keep in mind when crafting content for your online readers:
1. Get to the point
The most important information must come first, followed by the details and background information. Journalists call this style of writing the inverted pyramid. A reader should be able to grasp the big picture – your key message – after the first sentence.
2. Short sentences
Be concise. Most web readers are really just web scanners. According to research from web writing guru Jakob Nielsen:
In research on how people read websites we found that 79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word.
So again, it’s important you start with the most important information and follow that up with copy that is scannable. The next three tips focus on this objective.
3. Use lists and bullet points
This will break up your text, making it easier for readers to skim through. Why write out the services you offer in paragraph form when point form is easier to digest?
4. Keep paragraphs short
Four sentences max, conveying one idea.
5. Use subheadings
This is another effective way to break up and organize text. Again, making it easier for your readers to quickly find the information that’s most useful to them. Each subheading should be short and informative, summarizing your key message. Make sure your headings standout by using bold formatting.
6. Make your content searchable
Search engine optimization, or SEO, means using keywords that will make it easier for readers to find your webpage. Ask yourself: If I were looking for this information, what would I type into Google? Those are your keywords, and the most important information – what you want your readers to know you know. Make sure it’s at the top (tip No. 1).
If you’re not sure of which keywords to use, tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner can help. The free web app lets you research possible keywords and provides insight into how they might perform based on historical search statistics and traffic estimates.
7. Use plain language
Without it, you don’t have any keywords. If you make up words or use jargon, you’re only making it harder for people to find you. Abbreviations and acronyms should also be avoided unless they are well known to your target audience.
How important is it to use familiar words that a reader would put into a search bar? As Jakob Nielsen explains:
Web users are growing ever-more search dominant. Search is how people discover new websites and find individual pages within websites and intranets. Unless you’re listed on the first search engine results page (SERP), you might as well not exist. So, the first duty of writing for the Web is to write to be found.
8. Know your tone
To know your tone, you first have to know who your audience is. Once you know that, talk to them directly (use the word ‘you’). Use an active voice, show off your expertise and put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself: Do they really need or want to know this? If the answer is no, get rid of it. A web writer’s job is to not only grab the reader’s attention, but keep it.
This post is Part Three of our downloadable guide to developing your website, “Starting your website project.”