When we’re surfing the ‘net most of us are testament to the fact that attention spans get a little smaller. In contrast to print publications, much less attention is given to each word as we skim through web pages, so it’s important for us to understand that writing for the web can be significantly different than writing for print.
The web has inadvertently made authors out of us all. As we post on forums, send emails, share information, write white papers, guides and various web content – most of us are not authors by profession and so consequently the quality of writing on the web varies greatly.
In this post I’ll share some important points to consider when writing for the web and trying to harness the obvious reach that the web holds over traditional print media.
What is Web Content?
When we strip away all of the graphics, logos, designs and images from a site, we are left with pure web content. Most business websites can be quite similar in the sense that we all advertise our services, products, contact details, etc. However, each company has a variety of specialized information that can be used to create a unique website and it’s important that we recognize and feature the points that make our individual business (and associated content) different from our competitors.
The First Paragraph
As a general rule, if the first paragraph of a publication can attract and keep the readers attention, then they are highly likely to read on. Optimizing your first paragraph to be as articulate and concise as possible will greatly increase the chances that a reader will stay with you for more information. Outline your biggest benefits here and engage the customers to read on and get involved with your products and/or services.
Converse with Your Readers
Being a slave to search engines is inevitable, and it is because of this that we find many sites bombarded with keywords. Don’t allow your quest for rankings to interrupt the effectiveness of your grammar or your ability to be informative.
Your website may have a large amount of information – readers will most definitely not get through all of it – so make sure you outline the most important benefits and present them to users in a conversational style.
Having a friendly conversation will present the information more clearly and will be more engaging, for example:
“If you’re short on time, then you should try one of our widgets. Time is a precious commodity, and we’re here to help you make the most of yours…”
Don’t present your information in large blocks. Cut it down into short bite-sized paragraphs that are easier to digest and use bullet lists when comparing or describing features.
Use the least amount of words so that readers have less to skim through – you’ll find that the amount of scanning is reduced and readers will actually absorb more information.
Cater for Different Tastes
It’s also important to understand that people come to your website with different levels of knowledge on any one topic or product. You can’t expect everyone visiting your website to know about or understand your offerings in their entirety.
For example, sites that list products by their model numbers and reference codes are narrowing the appeal of their site to only those users that would know these numbers. It’s important to have enough foresight to realize that while you’re fully aware and knowledgeable about your products and services, your website’s visitors may not bw.
For example, instead of providing just model numbers and reference codes, why not include a picture, short description and some user reviews on your product pages?
Don’t Make the Reader do all the Work
Visitors will often venture to your website with one single goal in mind. Given that, if they’re then presented with a website that forces them to figure out the product/service that suits them, but they are not helped because there is no meaningful information, then your website has failed.
This extends to the way your information is presented. If your fact sheets and other information are, for example, simply uploaded in a series of PDFs for the user to download, then thy have to work harder because you didn’t take the time to convert the product information into easily navigated web pages.
Readers Don’t Like:
- Pages that require a lot of scrolling – Text is easier to read if it is clear, concise and scanable. The text needs to be in short paragraphs or bullet lists and needs to get straight to the point.
- Over doing the sales and marketing pitch with no real information but too much “fluff”, claiming “world’s best”, “number one”, “top of the range” – these bear no value if the simple features and benefits of your products are left out.
- Grammar and spelling mistakes – It seems obvious but they’re still very apparent on many websites. If someone sees spelling and grammar mistakes, then it seems obvious that the author was not willing to spend some extra time to run a spell check or read over their own work. If the author places such little value on the time they invest in their work, then readers will place similarly low values on their products/services and will most probably disregard the information.
Many visitors will take a look at the information on your website, however it’s important to understand that each person reads individually, so effective web content should make the reader feel that it’s focusing on them.
Try and get your point across quickly and avoid bombarding people with information – your published web content should be the result of various levels of refinement considering style, emphasis and conciseness.
The above points give a few important factors to consider when writing for the web, but if you are still lost for content then start at the very basic level of interviewing/researching your customers and finding out what it is that they want or need. From there, you can start investigating the foundations that lead customers to your website and make them want to stay with you.