Writing for websites

Writing for the web is not the same as writing for print. On the net, we tend to scan the content, looking for the information we are after rather than reading word for word.

Why is this?

  • Because we don’t have time, have other places (websites) to go to
  • Because it is slower to read on a screen than it is on paper
  • Because it is tiring to read on a screen
  • Because people generally don’t enjoy reading on a screen

Web content needs to be brief and to the point... quickly. When users generally get to a website, they are on a mission to find something they need or want, not to be entertained.

Here are a few tips that might help a bit:

Write for your audience
Remember, it isn’t about what you want to give, but about what you need / want! Write in their language, not yours and be relevant.

Start with the conclusion, just like on Newspapers
This style, used by journalists, is called the ‘inverted pyramid’. Starting by the conclusion, then supporting information with the least important at the end. This way, the reader can leave the reading at any point and still have the important info. And do this for the whole page as well as for each paragraph.

One idea per paragraph
If a user is not caught by the first few lines of a paragraph, they won’t read the end of it. By having one idea per paragraph you don’t risk them missing any!

Use clear and simple language
Basically, make sure everyone can read the site. Avoid slang or jargon for a start. Use shorter words; words that are easier to read where possible, and try to avoid complicated grammar (i.e. sentence structures). Ask a kid, your grandmother or a foreigner to read it. If they understand, you’ve passed the test.

Not too much copy!
Get to the point and be brief is a must. Users won’t bother if there is too much copy. Say half as much as you would write if it was on paper. Even less if possible.

Check spelling & grammar
Having spelling and / or grammar mistakes is a complete turn off. No one will trust you and inspiring trust on the net is of prime importance .

Use relevant Sub-headings
Don’t try to be clever – it won’t work! Sub-headings need to be descriptive and make sense. Do use them to break the text, it will help the user to see what it is about and which bit might be of interest to them and jump straight to it. Be logical though.

Make important words stand out
Use Bold, so that a user can spot them as they scan the page. Make sure that the bold bits make sense out of context, though. Do not use capitals. It is perceived as shouting, therefore possibly rude.

Make sure the links are descriptive Same as the bold text. They need to stand out and make sense out of context. It’s also good for SEO to use descriptive links. Always be consistent with links. Make sure they are formatted the same throughout.

Use bulleted lists
A favourite. Lists are really easy to scan through, they are engaging and easy to understand. Vertical reading is also much quicker than horizontal reading.

Note that SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) needs to be taken into consideration when writing the copy and that if you decide to use a copywriter, be careful and choose wisely. A lot of copywriters claim to be web / SEO copywriters, but only a few really are.

You can test your readability here