Writing Web Content

So you’re the lucky one that gets to prepare the content for your website. I have good news for you – it’s some of the easiest writing you’ll ever do. Once you learn a few tricks, it’s a breeze.

Guiding Considerations

  • The most difficult challenge people face when writing about their own organization is this: your website is not about you. Your history, your awards, your achievements, your success – none of it matters unless the reader can relate it to themselves. The driving mantra is: “your website is about what you can do for the user.” It’s a subtle difference, but a vital one. Your history, awards, etc. ARE important, but only in how they will benefit the reader. Can’t figure out how to spin some things into a benefit? Then perhaps it doesn’t belong on the site (or at the very least, not prominently).
  • People don’t read websites, they scan them. Headlines jump out. Use them wisely, or you give up perfect opportunities to make sure people understand what’s on your site (oh, and search engines love them too). Use bullets, numbered lists, pull quotes – anything to break up long sections of text.
  • People are easily distracted and easily confused. Succinct is difficult, but remember that most users have the attention span of a 5 year old with ADD. Make your point, support your point, and move on. Less is more.
  • Websites are unique in advertising. Virtually all advertising is “push” marketing – someone creates a static message and it’s “pushed” to the consumer regardless of their unique interests. Websites are capable of “pull” marketing, where you can present many choices and allow the user to “pull” the content they want. This does not mean you should throw up on the user. Give them a general overview and allow them the option to pull more. There are a good number of techniques that can be used to make this happen.

Learn From History

Newspapers have been published since the 17th century. They’ve had plenty of time to come up with a simple, winning formula:

  • Use an evocative image to catch the eye
  • Write a compelling headline that gets people to read the first line of the article
  • Write a “standfirst” – a short (1 or 2 sentence) summary of the entire text
  • Make your point and let them know where they can read more

Home Page Considerations

The home page is a unique beast, and should be treated as such. Remember the 3:30 rule – you have 3 seconds to make a first impression, and 30 seconds (max) for them to figure out what you are about and if they are interested. It’s not much time, and you certainly don’t want to waste it on frivolous content.

There’s a monkey simple method to determine what content belongs on the home page. It simply must belong to one of the following categories:

  • Clearly explains who you are or what you do
  • Encourages the visitor to DO something (conversion)

If it doesn’t fall into one of these categories, it doesn’t belong on the home page (sorry, Twitter feed). Many a website has been rendered ineffective because of “too many cooks in the kitchen” that all want their own little slice of real estate. Do not let anything on that home page that does not absolutely belong.

Interior pages

Thanks to advancements in search engine technology, visitors are just as likely to be directed to an interior page of your site as they are the home page. Keep this in mind as you structure your interior pages, as many of the home page considerations will also apply.

The basic format for interior pages should be as follows:

  • Bold headline that clearly explains what the page is about (if you can sneak in some SEO phrases, so much the better)
  • Initial sentence (or two) that provides an overview of the page content
  • Write a “standfirst” – a short (1 or 2 sentence) summary of the entire text
  • Balance of text that focuses on ONE topic, use headlines to separate topic concepts

Be sure to support the topic with imagery or graphics, anything to break up large chunks of text. If your copy is text heavy, either reduce the amount of text or use other techniques like tabs or accordions.

Miscellaneous

  • Imagery sets the tone for the site, and has more of an impact than any other element. Carefully consider everything about the images you choose – subject matter, size, energy, colors, emotion, etc. Professional photographers (with web experience) are worth their weight in gold.
  • Remember that navigation is a visual cue to the site’s content. Obscure or fancy navigation titles might make linguists happy, but not site visitors.
  • For 95% of all websites, your navigation order should be “visitor-centric”, which means product/services is first and information about your company is the last thing before the contact page.
  • Every page should have a call to action, even if it’s just to direct them to another page. The no-brainer is to add a “contact us for more information” link.

Have any good tips for web content? Let us know in the comments!

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