When writing for the Web, writers should always keep one analogy in mind: the Internet is a jungle and Web users are information foragers within it. Usability expert Jakob Nielsen championed this comparison based on his studies that found that the majority of Internet users only scan websites in their quest to find useful information as quick as possible. According to Nielsen, the success of website writing depends primarily on conciseness, scan-ability and objectivity. But these aren’t the only guidelines to follow to make your writing successful on the web.
Clear and Concise
Because the majority of Internet users scan websites for the information they are looking for, good website writing must be clear and concise. A good general rule of thumb is that the word count for websites should be half that of traditional writing. You want visitors to be able to locate the gist of each paragraph as quickly as possible. Flowery language and complex sentences have no place on the web.
Divide into Chunks
Good web copywriting isn’t only about the number of words on a site. Organization is just as important. Break your text into chunks that are easily digestible for readers who are glancing through your page. Divide these chunks up with clear subheads that tell the reader what the next paragraph is about. Readers can then quickly decide whether your site is right for them without even having to read any of the “finer print.” Bulleted lists are a great way to provide the most important information in a quick and easily understandable format.
It is also important to understand how your website looks in each different browsers and with different screen sizes so that you know what visitors see when they come to your site. Know how much of your home page is seen before having to scroll down, and make sure that the most important and eye-catching information is placed at the top of the page before the scroll.
How to Draw Readers In
Often, website homepages are organized so that users can click on several options that will take them to another page of the site. Whether or not users click on a particular item usually depends on the attention-getting ability of three things: headlines, deks and accompanying photos or multimedia.
Magazines and newspapers rely on their headlines to attract newsstand buyers, and website copywriters should think of their headlines in a similar way. Headlines and deks on the homepage are the only chance a writer has to “sell” that story to a visitor, so they should be simple, clear and attractive to readers. Headlines should emphasize verbs that connote action, something that will inform or entertain readers. But they also must reflect what the article is about. There is nothing more aggravating for an Internet reader than clicking on a link expecting to get one type of information and finding something different.
Who, What, Where, When, Why
Once users have clicked on an article, Website writers should follow the inverted pyramid style of newspaper writing. This style means that the most important information in the article is presented first, then expanded upon throughout the rest of the article. In other words, the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why” need to be answered first. The “how” will make up the rest of the article. Another reason to use the inverted pyramid style is because the majority of readers will not click to the second page of an article. Place the most important information to readers before the page break.
The 90s are over and search engine algorithms have evolved. Keyword stuffing is no longer necessary, but SEO literacy is just as important as ever. Consider the keywords most relevant to your page, and think of ways to include them in the title and body of your article. Today’s web copywriter will use applications such as Google’s Keyword Tool to add a scientific dimension to their intuition.
Web writers should understand the function of hyperlinking. Hyperlinks provide attribution and more information to readers without bogging them down. For example, if you mention a specific fact, but you don’t want to explain the details, simply link to another article that explains that fact. Either highlight one specific word, which will clue readers in about what information that link will provide, or write something like “for more information see this study,” and link on the word study. Make sure that you set the link to open in a new tab or window so the reader will be able to get back to your website easier. Otherwise, readers will be whisked away to another site and may forget they ever began on one of your pages.
Another reason to hyperlink is for attribution. If you are quoting another source or lifting an idea from another writer, it is best to provide the reader with that information. Then if the reader is more interested in a particular point you mention, they can find more sources about it. Sites that hyperlink to other well-written and helpful sources will become invaluable for readers, and they will return to your site if they know you will provide more sources and information they can use at their own discretion.
Style will make your website stand out while drawing readers in. For most websites, an informal yet lively voice is the best, helping you achieve simplicity and easy readability. Internet readers prefer sites that are written in a conversational and informal style.
Make sure you write in active rather than passive voice. Active voice will also force you to be concise.
Use of Multimedia
Finally, remember that the appeal of the internet is its ability to mix all forms of information and entertainment. Use photos, graphics, videos and flash to grab readers’ attentions. You don’t want to distract the reader by relying on these things too heavily, but make sure you are always thinking about how to best illustrate your text with multimedia.