On the web there is one simple truth: people don’t read online. And let’s be honest, neither do I, and probably neither do you. It’s not that we’re all incredibly lazy, the reality is our days are so busy and our time is so precious that if we actually read every single word on every website we visit then we would never get anything else done. So no, unless it’s something we genuinely want to know about (like this article, right?) then we don’t read. We scan.
Which is why it’s so important to know how to organize and present your content on the web in a way that will catch your users’ interest and reveal the right information as they scan your website.
The problem is, not everyone is an expert copywriter, and everyone who does write for their website is certain that their content is worth reading, and expect others to do so. But let’s be real here, no one has time for that. So following that logic, let’s get to the point.
Tips for Writing Web Content:
1. Write for your target audience. If you know your website is directed at non-technical users, for example, then don’t use technical terms. Unless that’s the point of the website and you’re going to define each term, just avoid it altogether. It’ll make your content much easier to understand and users won’t just glaze over it or get frustrated trying to process every single sentence. On the other hand, if your audience is well-versed in the subject you’re writing about, don’t preach to the choir either. make it personal, specific to them, put yourself in their shoes and don’t start your copy by telling a designer that “design is important”.
2. Keep it short and simple. I’m going to go ahead and quote Einstein here: If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. This is especially true if you’re promoting a product or service on your website, keep it concise and to the point. People should be able to get the gist of it in seconds and know what it is you do and how it benefits them.
Let’s take a look at two websites that knew exactly how to get their message across:
Pretty straight-forward, right? But although it’s only a couple lines of text, choosing the right words to use can be really hard. So don’t worry if you end up pulling a few hairs out on the first try, it takes time and practice to get the hang of it.
3. Use bullet points. This one is the ultimate way to make your content easily scannable. As a general rule: if you have more than 4 bullet points, it’s time to use numbers. This is so users know how many points there actually are in longer lists and can easily find their way back to a specific one. Using bullet points to explain concepts is especially important for educational content where you want users to quickly understand something and make it easy for them to remember it later on.
4. Use readable fonts and colors. This is important too, folks. If you have red text on a black background, you can bet the first thing users will do is say “whoa” and close the tab. The general preference is dark text on a white background. As for fonts, there is no one rule. Some say to use serif fonts (think: Times New Roman) for titles and sans serif fonts (like the one I’m using now) for content. Others say to just stick with sans serif fonts overall for a clean, modern look. It’s up to you, really. Just make sure it’s not overly fancy with twirls and hard to distinguish characters. Or worse: Comic Sans. Don’t make designers cry.
A quick test you can do to see if your font is readable for the majority of your users or not, is to set the font to size 10 and read it from about 40 – 50cm distance. If you can’t make it out, throw it out.
This is not a readable font This is a readable font
5. Format your content. No one wants to plough through a wall of text. Make sure you have headlines, paragraphs, lists, and some good quality images (if applicable) just to make things more interesting. Also play around (in moderation) with styles like bold and italics to emphasize certain things and catch your user’s eye. All of this contributes to making your content easily scannable (left-aligned text is the easiest to scan, just so you know), and therefore, more likely to keep your user on your website. However, if you choose to use Caps Lock to make some text stand out, make sure you don’t overuse it because NO ONE LIKES TO BE SHOUTED AT AND IT’S TIRING TO READ LOTS OF TEXT LIKE THIS. Capisce?
There are obviously many more tips, tricks, and recommendations for writing for the web, and you have to keep in mind that if a user is uninterested in your website as a whole, they won’t read it no matter how you write it. Furthermore, it’s not just writing properly to keep your users engaged; you also have to take into account your website’s layout, colors, images, and let’s not forget the importance of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to make your content visible when user’s search for related information. But for now, take these recommendations in mind during your next writing session, and see how it improves the readability (and maybe even the popularity) of your website.