Note: I originally wrote this for a company blog, but this has since been taken down.
Things to consider when writing for the web
Since it’s inception the internet has become an invaluable tool for many businesses and organisations as a way of marketing themselves and providing relevant information direct to their customers.
Content management systems have allowed website owners to take full control over their own content and this ability to update the site and content on demand is key to realising the full potential of having a website.
However a website is only as good as the content that is provided and once you’ve worked hard to compile the information that you want to display, you then want to make sure that your information is approachable and easy to read.
Writing for the web is not like any other kind of writing.
Internet users have a whole wealth of information available to them on any topic that you can imagine. You need to make sure that once they have arrived on your page they are instantly engaged and encouraged to look around the rest of your site.
The decision to stay or go is usually taken within the first 5 seconds, so first impressions really do count.
The way that your web page is presented can work to either draw users in or scare them off.
Internet users have a tendency to quickly scan pages to gauge it’s relevance to them before deciding to read further or not, so it’s important to make sure that your information is clearly laid out and easy to follow.
Below is a list of points that should help to keep your content approachable:
- Don’t use large blocks of text – these are intimidating and can be difficult to read on screen.
- Be relevant and succinct – don’t waffle on or you’ll end up with a long page full of unnecessary text.
- Similarly try to limit your sentence length. Shorter sentences are much easier to read and digest than longer wordy ones.
- Use subtitles to highlight the content of your page – these break up the text and guide the user quickly to the specific content they want to see.
- Use pictures where appropriate – these can enliven the page and make it more visually appealing and approachable. Just make sure that they are relevant to your content and are correctly sized correctly (overly large images or multiple images will make the page a lot slower to load).
- If you have a lot of short points to make consider using a list as these can help bring out important information.
- Be wary of copying text from programs like Microsoft Word and Outlook straight into your webpage editor. Programs such as this apply their own formatting to the text which also gets copied over when you cut and paste. This can lead to unexpected fonts, text sizes and colours being applied which could clash with or interrupt the overall flow and design of your site.
If you prefer to write in word and copy over, then always look for a ‘Paste from word’ option or similar in the html editor to prevent this from happening. Copying into notepad (or a similar basic text editor) before then cutting and pasting will also work.
Using these ideas should help you to avoid the large intimidation blocks of text that might be full of useful information but rarely get read.
Write for your intended audience
When you put together your content you need to consider what information you are trying to get across and who your target audience is. This will help you to keep your content relevant and on an appropriate level for your intended readers.
It’s no good using lots of technical language or jargon if you’re trying to appeal to those with little or no knowledge on the subject. Similarly if you’re writing an article to be read by other experts in your field then writing a very basic ‘dumbed down’ article won’t do you many favours either.
It’s also worth considering how your information relates to the questions that internet users are trying to find answers to. For example you might have a lot of information about ‘Succession Planning’ which might not mean much to many people, but mention ‘Inheritance’ or ‘Inheritance Tax’ and this suddenly makes your information seem a lot more relevant to a lot more people.
A key part of guiding your intended users to click through to your page is to use an appropriate title – users will often select to read your content based upon this alone so ensure that it accurately describes what your page is about.
Here are some other useful tips to help keep your content concise and relevant:
- Keep your page limited to a single topic. If you want to expand on a related topic, it may be better to write a separate page on this and then link the 2 pages together. This way you avoid confusing the subjects in a long section of text but have 2 shorter, easier to read pages that will both get indexed by the search engines and lead people to your site.
- Similarly, if you already have other pages on your site on a related subject then link the pages together if it’s appropriate. This encourages users to stay on your site and helps demonstrate your extensive knowledge in that subject.
- Use correct spellings and be grammatically correct. This might seem obvious but if your page is littered with mistakes of this kind then it can create doubt as to the accuracy of your information. It can also imply that your care of approach and level of knowledge in your area may suffer similar flaws.
- ALWAYS proofread your work. An even better idea would be to get someone else to proof read it for you, as they’ll often spot things that you might have missed.
A few of these points have touched briefly on the topic of SEO, however this is really a whole extensive topic in itself. The main point here is to ensure that you keep your content accurate, relevant, and targeted towards your intended audience without drifting off topic.
Writing for the web presents a different set of challenges to other forms of writing.
This is mainly due to the vast amount of information that is available on the internet and the approach that internet users adopt to find the information that they are looking for.
Large blocks of text and confused intermingled topics will turn away users extremely quickly. Whereas well thought out, clearly constructed, concise but informative pages will make your site much more approachable and should lead to users staying on your site and making repeat visits.
Always bear in mind your intended message and your target audience, and always, always proofread.