1. How Users Read on the Web
They don’t. Users scan a page, picking out individual words and sentences.
- 79 percent of users scan any new web page
- 16 percent read word-by-word.
So web pages have to employ scannable text by using
- highlighted keywords (hypertext links serve as one form of highlighting; typeface variations and colour are others)
- meaningful sub-headings (not “clever” ones)
- bulleted lists
- one idea per paragraph (users will skip over any additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the paragraph)
- the inverted pyramid style, starting with the conclusion
- half the word count (or less) than conventional writing OR eliminating
2. Home Page Content
- Keep your most important message high and on the left.
- In general, you want to convey what business you’re in, where you’re located, and what general services you offer.
- The home page should have your most important messages only
- Keep it short and simple
- Promote your location – keep it local
- Make it personal and not a sales pitch or like a marketing brochure
3. Credibility is important
- Credibility can be increased by high-quality graphics, good writing, and use of outbound hypertext links.
- Links to other sites show that the authors have done their homework and are not afraid to let readers visit other sites.
- Users detest ”marketese”; the promotional writing style with boastful subjective claims (“hottest ever”). Web users are busy: they want to get the straight facts. Also, credibility suffers when users clearly see that the site exaggerates.
Determine your site’s purpose to create credible, scannable content
From your site’s purpose you can work out the most important message. For example, I want my site to:
- make more money
- convince people of our point of view
- get more fans
- provide existing support for customers
- unite people who share our interests etc
Your site’s purpose actually boils down to the needs of your audience, and this applies to not just commercial sites. If the purpose of your site is to convince people of something, the content required to convince them ultimately has to speak their language, be put in terms of their understanding and relate to their needs and goals. The same is true of informing, entertaining or any other purpose. Your website is a communication tool for people—it has to engage them or they’re clicking on to the next site.
4. Make the most important content more visibly and frequently accessible
Placement in the navigation—Including a page on the main navigation not only makes it quickly available from anywhere on the site but says to visitors that it has importance.
- Placement on every page—If a link to content appears on every page (outside of the main navigation and the footer navigation), that makes the content highly accessible and again indicates a high level of importance.
- Placement on the home page—Any content that’s promoted on the home page takes on a special significance, even if that’s one of the few ways to access the page.
- Vertical placement—The farther up the page a content element is placed, the more likely it is that people will see it and the greater the importance attached to it. Other than your header (with your logo and likely your navigation), there shouldn’t be anything placed vertically before the primary content of the page.
- Horizontal placement—On the horizontal plane of a page, important content needs to start as far to the left as possible because that’s where people tend to scan up and down.
- The use of images—Photos and graphics are an excellent way of focusing attention on content and away from the rest of the elements on the page, including other content
- Internal linking—Linking within content to other content on your site can make that other content more accessible.
- Highlighting—Within content, you can draw attention to particular passages or ideas by using techniques such as callouts.
5. Be Correct
Mistakes in your content may inadvertently reflect sloppiness, incompetence, or ignorance. The most common mistakes and most detrimental in order of importance are:
- The spelling error
- Constant bad grammar
- Not getting the facts right
6. Write for your audience
- Write for your audience, not for yourself. This means providing context or background that you might take for granted.
- Use keyword analysis tools to determine what users are searching for within your industry and use these keywords in your content.
- Use terms your audience would use. In your industry you might talk about Commercial Real Estate while your audience is looking for Office Space. You might refer to your treatment method as Therapy while your audience thinks of it as Counselling.
7. Get to the point quickly
This begins with the title of the content. It might be fun to write clever headline copy (and if it’s important to the concept of your website, go ahead), but in the vast majority of cases a clear descriptive title is much more effective for visitors as well as for search engines.
Within the body of the content it is important for each paragraph to get to the point immediately and then elaborate. Long, verbose sentences do not help you get to the point. On the other hand you don’t want your copy to be dumbed down. Write for your audience, and if it’s a wide audience write your content for the lower half of the demographic.
8. Be Well structured
As with writing, the key to good structure is this: Get to the point.
Just as visitors need to know immediately what your site is about, they need to know immediately that the content of the page they’ve landed on will give them what they need.
If it takes three paragraphs to know that your interior design services include the commercial as well as the residential market, that’s too long for a visitor looking for commercial interior design. People tend to scan first before reading, and if they won’t find the word commercial until the third paragraph, they might well give up before then.
- Paragraphs should average about 3 sentences or roughly 60 words.
- Pages should be no more than 10 paragraphs long.
Section headings create extra white space but the difference in sizing helps to draw your eye to the beginning of each section. Your eyes can then grasp the visual structure of the piece. Break your content into separate sections and make sure you have clearly written headings so your visitors can quickly grasp what the section is about.
Lists are another powerful tool for transforming content into something more easily understood. They achieve this by:
- Emphasizing each point through separation
- Allowing the eye to quickly scan
- Providing a road map for more detailed explanations
- Making it easier to remember the points
- Making it easier to find key points on a page
The content of this article has been derived mostly from George Plumley’s ‘Website Design and Development – 100 Questions to Ask Before Building a Website’ and Jakob Neilson’s reports and blogs. It is a summary of what I see as the most important points for business owners.
- Future Friendly
- Make2Sell Australia - online store
- When was the last time you watched an online video clip?
- Coffs Harbour Music Society Website
- PowerDownNow Web Design
- Writing for the web
- eCommerce - Joe Button
- SEO - arguably the most controversial practice of all
- Web Content
- Web Design