Knowing how to write effectively for the web is not only a good practice, it can also improve your website traffic, usability and search engine optimization. Many traditional writing guidelines apply to both web and print. The key is providing the right amount of information in the right manner.
Last month, in Part 1, we set the stage for writing engaging content by identifying your audience, putting yourself in their shoes, and making a plan before you actually start writing. This month, we outline some simple tips for writing content that engages – along with a few important pitfalls to avoid.
Keep It Simple, Succinct, and Scannable
Web users don’t read; they scan. Headings, subheadings, lists, images and captions are writing tools that you can use to help your website visitors quickly find what they’re looking for.
Headlines and Subheads
You’ve all seen them – webpages with a full page of paragraph copy and a single, solitary headline at the top. Would you really want to read all of that? Probably not. And neither will your website visitors. Give your page a good, descriptive title and break your content into bite-sized chunks accented with informative subheads using these guidelines.
- Keep headlines and subheads short – no more than 4 - 8 words.
- Eliminate as many filler words as you can (a, and, the, of, etc.).
- Incorporate keywords from the paragraph directly below the heading.
- Be direct – don’t try to be clever.
Website visitors are usually on a mission: they want to find out if your company or organization has what they are looking for or if they want to do business with you. The structure of your body content can help visitors achieve their goals and bring you more business.
- Get to the point in the first sentence or two.
- Keep paragraphs short so they are easily skimmed – no more than 40-70 words or 5 lines of text.
- Limit yourself to one main idea per paragraph.
Bulleted and Numbered Lists
Lists are an excellent way to convey key points to readers, quickly and succinctly.
- Use bulleted lists when the order of the items is not important.
- Use numbered lists where the sequence of the items is important.
- Have no more than 9 items in a list.
Images and Captions
Newspapers and magazines know what they are doing when it comes to using images to attract readers and enhance their message. Take a page out of their book to enliven your web content.
- Images can bring a page to life and reinforce your message.
- Images should be meaningful and directly relevant to the content. An image for the sake of an image will just become clutter that gets ignored.
- Add relevance and meaning to your images by including captions whenever possible.
Pitfalls to Avoid
The guidelines above will help you write effective, web-friendly copy. However, any good thing can be taken to extremes. As you write, be sure to use the following in moderation:
- Bold text: Using it for emphasis in too many places will clutter the page, distract the reader and look unprofessional.
- All caps: It’s not nice to shout at your readers.
- Color: Reserve color for your headlines and subheads. Stick to one or two colors that coordinate with your website’s color palette.
- Underlines: Do not use them at all. They are too easily confused with hyperlinks.
For additional information on writing for the web, check out these resources: