Writing effectively for the web takes more than a few tweaks to printed materials. As a journalism major & former advertising copywriter, here are my top tips for creating compelling online content.
1. Grab Attention
Headings and sub-headings make text more scannable and user-friendly. Just like a book’s table of contents, your readers can use sub-headings to easily move to the section of the document that’s most useful for them.
Moreover, take time to make your title eye-catching. Be descriptive. Tell your readers specifically what you’re covering in each page and section.
[See how this entire blog post takes advantage of headings?!]
2. Start off Strong
Make it brief, make it short. Let them get what they want, instead of getting them figure if this is what they want. You should state your point and start with your conclusion in front, then then expand upon it, just like news journalism.
3. Space Matters
Formatting is essential. The human eyes are claustrophobic, and text in massive lumps is a turnoff. Create more white space with:
- Very distinct paragraphs, with each demonstrating only one point
- Lists — they are easier to scan than paragraphs, especially if you keep them short.Limit list items to 7 words to help your readers remember them
[Notice I used a list?!]
4. Always Consider The Audience
Put yourself into the shoes of your readers. As you write/edit, ask yourself if they really need or want to know this? It’s all too easy to bombard readers will all sorts of information that may or may not be all that important to them. Remember you not only have to capture their attention, you have to hold on to it and guide them through your site.
5. Create A Compelling Persona
Your readers want to know who you are and how much they should trust what they are reading. Humanize your organization and your site by including details on the authors/staff/members, and cultivate a warm and approachable persona in your writing style.
6. Speak Their Language
Avoid acronyms unless they are very widely used — it may be off-putting or confusing to readers — even members. Get personal and make your content relatable.
7. Active Verbs!
Compel readers to action by using powerful verbs. Avoid passive wording like “make”, “be” or “use” and instead, opt for powerful, descriptive words like “create”, “discover” and “maximize”.
[Notice how all 13 of these tips use active verbs in their subheads!]
8. Chunk Related Content
Don’t be afraid to have a multi-page article/content piece, just like a magazine article. Chunking text into digestible pieces vastly improves readability and digestion. Write one idea per paragraph, or cover one concept of several on a page. Reading several pages of nicely spaced, breathable content is much more user-friendly than putting the entire document on a single page. If you need to write a long piece, create sub-sections and write each sub-section as a stand-alone page.
9. Maximize Hyperlinks
Never, ever use “click here” alone as a link. Readers scanning a page don’t know what the link is all about. Look how much more compelling and informative a “click here for full registration details” link can be — it fully describes the information you’ll be accessing by clicking.
By making your links part of the copy, they stand out from normal text, provide more cues as to what the page is about and also boost search engine optimization too! This also helps with both accessibility as well as SEO.
10. Follow Web Conventions
To get attention, use keywords and make them bold (don’t underline — that represents a link). Limit your bolding to one set of keywords/phrases per paragraph or it can become overwhelming.
11. Break Up Text With Imagery
Bold, compelling images, make your point visually and give the eyes a place to rest. Imagery does wonders to set the tone for your website as well, allowing for subtle communication about your brand, mission and ideals. Just be sure that images compliment your message — images for the sake of images only frustrate readers.
12. Web Writing Is Different Than Print Writing
One of the most common mistakes is to assume that your print marketing materials can be used verbatim. Writing for the web needs to be different from writing for print since a website visitor can enter from anywhere within your site depending on the search or path they used to reach you.
They may never even visit your home page.
Thus, repetition is your friend when writing for the web. Your key points should be repeated on your site within page content, sidebars, footers, etc. so that there are numerous ways to disperse your critical communications.
13. Solicit Feedback
The web is interactive, and your writing should reflect that. Asking for feedback (and providing links or forms) is a good way to keep your pages dynamic and current and engage with your audience.
So, how’d we do?! Send us your favorite tips on best practices for optimizing web content below.