How to write better website content
Writing more effective website copy is all about keeping it short and keeping it simple. Find out how with our 4 quick tips to improve your web copy.
Writing for the web is a particular art, and it's not easy. It’s an established fact that people don’t read much on websites. In 2008 one study estimated the percentage of copy that users actually read at a pathetic 20%. The amount of ‘noise’ online has got worse since then, so it’s reasonable to conclude that if anything, these days people are prepared to read even less.
Visitors don’t read, they just scan
Your site is not a good book that the visitor is going to curl up with, it’s something they’ll skip across the surface of, looking for something obvious to grab their attention. So to maximise their engagement, keep the following in mind when writing copy for your website.
1. The writing: keep it simple
When we’re writing for business, we’re almost always hit by the feeling that we need to be ‘formal’. The result is stilted sentence structure (passive rather than active voice – harder for the reader to process), jargon, long words where a short one would do, and the almost total abandonment of pronouns (you, we, they). We suddenly write sentences we wouldn’t dream of saying.
- Be concise. Don’t be tempted to waffle
- Write short, simple sentences
- Write shorter paragraphs than you would elsewhere.
- Use pronouns to talk about 'you' and 'us'.
- Try not to be too formal
- Use the language your visitors use.
2. The page: help the user to focus on what's important
Our eyes are easily tired by solid blocks of text, and with plain text blocks there's no visual clues as to where the important information is. Use the ideas below to make it easier for visitors to lift out important bits of information, and ‘zone in’ on areas of the page that are relevant to them.
- Provide an initial summary, so I know whether I want to read more
- Segment the text into short paragraphs with one idea or topic per section
- Use descriptive headings for each section of text, so I can understand at a glance whether I need to read that paragraph
- Use pull quotes and bulleted lists to vary the layout and highlight important elements
- Break up the page with images
3. Don't forget a call to action
While CTAs are often considered to be more in the realm of design and page layout, your copy should lead to a logical call to action. Having brought the visitor with you on a (hopefully short & simple) journey, don't leave them hanging at the end by forgetting to provide them with somewhere to go next.
4. Take your time: it takes longer than you think
Almost everyone underestimates the time investment required to write copy for a whole website. Even if you have an existing website that just needs updating, it’s still a significant task. And it’s not a job to skimp on. Leave yourself at least twice as much time as you expect to need for writing web copy.
This post from 2011 looks at the dangers of having errors in your copy, and the damage that can do to reputation, and therefore conversions. Just another example of the halo effect, and why – with websites as with everything else in life - getting the detail right matters.