How to write for the web? Whether you’re a web designer tasked with creating a website, a business owner trying to flesh out what content to put on your site, a blogger writing for your many followers, or a geek with something important to share, there’s something important you should know – the average person’s retention level on the internet is much lower than when reading something printed.
How can you ensure that your site’s visitors will read your content, stay for a while on your site, and come back again to visit? Here are a few tips that will help:
1. Use a conversational style
Website content is different from printed matter in that you’re trying to create a relationship with your reader. The tone of your language, therefore, should be more conversational and not as if you’re writing a press release or a scholastic essay. On saying that, keep in mind that your company has an image it wants to portray and you should maintain this. If you’re a legal firm you won’t want to sound like a teenage blog.
2. Don’t overload the page with text
It’s all very well that you want to pack your site with useful information, but think of your visitors’ attention span. Reading something on the computer monitor is not as easy as reading a newspaper so don’t overwhelm your readers with a sea of text. Instead, limit your page content to about 300 to 500 words per page.
3. Break up your text into manageable chunks
Imagine seeing a web page that has a single paragraph of 500 words. Your first thought would be to move on to a different page without bothering to read what you just saw. In order to prevent your site from looking like a scholarly journal and scaring your viewers away, break up your content into several paragraphs. How to do this: when you start talking about a different concept or idea, start a new paragraph. Keep your paragraphs to about 100 words each.
4. Use layman’s language
Try to keep your technical terms to a level that the average person will understand. A topnotch lawyer’s website is useless if its viewers can’t fathom what he’s trying to say. If you’re a geek, tone down the technical jargon. You want your viewers to stay for a while instead of scooting away as soon as they see the lingo on your first page. If you must use technical terms, explain what they mean.
5. Tailor your language to the culture of your targeted audience
Certain words in the English language take on a different meaning when you put them within a cultural context. If you’re targeting a US audience, then write using American English and not British or Australian English.
Here are a few examples:
- potato chips (American) = crisps (British)
- apartment (American) = flat (British)
- elevator (American) = lift (British)
- pants (American) = trousers (British)
- slippers (American) = flip-flops (British) = thongs (Australian)
- undershirt (American) = vest (British) = singlet (Australian)
6. Get to the point
When writing for the web, you’ll need to cut out the unnecessary words. Prolonged introductions, extraneous words in your adjectives and adverbs, overly long descriptions, and the use of words mined from a dictionary and which people hardly ever use anymore are pointless. The viewer will neither have the time nor patience to read all the fluff.
7. Watch for words that mean the same thing in different places
Keep your terms consistent in order not to confuse your readers. For example, don’t refer to a “FAQ” page as such on your homepage and then title that page “Knowledgebase.” What may seem stark clear to you may be confusing to readers.
8. Maintain consistency in your writing style
Most inconsistencies in websites are found in product descriptions, instructions, button labels, page title, and link text. Make sure these are consistent throughout your site. For example, if you start by using nouns for your tabs and links, maintain that and don’t switch to verbs midway. If you put in a listing and end one line with a comma, put a comma at the end of each item you’re listing until you reach the end, which you should end with a period. Inconsistencies in writing style may not seem very important but they speak a lot about the company that owns it.
9. Proofread your writing
Never upload content unless you’re sure it has been edited for both grammatical and typographical errors. If your English isn’t perfect and you’re not sure that what you wrote would pass an editor’s eyes, run your document through Microsoft Word’s Spelling & Grammar checker. Make sure too that you proofread the text on your website menu and button labels. Poor writing and sloppy proofreading will turn off your readers.
Guest author Cherie M. is a writer and marketing specialist working with Phases Design Studio out of Denver, CO. Visit Phases Design Studio for tips and tricks related to web and graphic design. See our guest post guidelines.