The mindset of the online reader is ruled by convenience, speed and ‘what’s in it for me’. In a flash, people want current, useful and relevant information to fulfil their needs and to do so, they have adopted new reading habits:
They skim read to seek broad knowledge looking for contextual cues from headings and labels.
They scan text to find detailed information looking for keywords.
Web writing is very different from writing for print. You have to write for people and search engines and also take into account web technology.
Here comes the juggling act…
You have to be an effective communicator to deliver valuable information in a user-friendly way and create a favourable first impression in a matter of seconds.
How to communicate
- Talk with your reader using ‘you’ and refer to familiar examples.
- Think globally and use plain English. If jargon is used, make sure you provide an explanation for the uninitiated.
- Write concisely using half the word count of conventional writing.
- Use short sentences.
- Be objective and factual. Steer clear from marketing fluff and verbosity.
Content Layout & Structure
You must help people access and sift through information as quickly as possible otherwise they will leave your site before discovering the ‘what’s in it for me’.
How to structure information
- Organise information from broad to detailed as newspapers do. This hierarchical model prevents clutter on a page and enables people to be selective and bypass data irrelevant to their needs.
- Use descriptive menu labels, headlines, links and highlighted keywords to help skimming and scanning.
- Support reading online with appropriate font size and text layout.
- Chunk text with one idea per short paragraph.
- Arrange information by categories or other grouping techniques.
- Facilitate comparisons with tables and charts.
- Be consistent. Use same layout, fonts and colours throughout your site to avoid distraction and let people focus on your message.
You must offer interactivity. It is expected.
How to use web technology
- Empower people by letting them select from multiple-choice menus and fill in web forms.
- Add value to your site with hyperlinked interactivity e.g. inbound links for cross-reference or outbound links for additional information.
- Engage people with surveys, forums and online tools.
Keywords & Search engines
Although you write for people, you cannot dismiss opportunities to boost your search engine rankings organically (without paying) and help people to find you.
How to achieve better ranking
- Select keywords or keyword phrases used by your target market. Your choice of words is critical.
- Strategically position keywords on your web page e.g. in your page title, link labels, meta tags, headlines and body of your page.
- Repeat intentionally your keywords in the website content to emphasize the relevancy of your page to those keywords.
Web writing looks easy but effective web writing to meet the needs of online readers can be challenging.