Writing for a website needs to take into account how hard it is to read from a screen. Your visitors are scanning the screen until they find a reason to stop and actually read the text. I have used tips from the book Do The Web Write – Writing for and Marketing Your Website by Dan Furman.
Rule 1 – Web Copy must be scan-able
A visitor should be able to glance at the page and know what it is generally about and understand the salient points. They scan first to decide whether they want to invest the effort in reading and if something catches their eye they will start reading then and there, not at the beginning. This is because reading from a screen is harder work than reading paper. To make your page scan-able you use:
- Bullet points
- Headlines must address the main reason people came to your site. For example “Professional writing that’s compelling, easy to read and drives business” because that is what people want when they go to a professional writer’s site.
- Avoid the hype unless it is the sort of site that people may expect it.
- Headlines should give the reader information about the page they landed on and encourages them to read further. They can be emotional without being hype filled. “Swimming with the dolphins is an experience with you will remember – and cherish – for the rest of your life.”
Are more important than headings, they can be used to tell a story and ideally should contain keywords for SEO purposes. Each sub heading should be followed by 1 or 2 paragraphs. “Company History” can become “Serving Anytown’s Plumbing Needs for Over 50 Years”
Ease of scan-ability and easier to chunk up information. Don’t overdo them but on 60% of your pages is OK.
Rule 2 – Use short paragraphs.
3-5 sentences work best. Although technically one paragraph covers one thought, to break it up makes it more readable. Follow with a one sentence paragraph which becomes a great call to action. You can start off asking an obvious question to get the reader in a yes frame of mind.
Rule 3 – Don’t Dwell (Keep your pages short)
The longer your page is the worse the initial reaction will be. Web research suggests that most people won’t scroll down a page unless they are already interested so make you best points first. Don’t leave your quote button too far down the page, even better put it on your main navbar.
Rule 4 – Throw out the English rule book
Write like you talk, repeat your writing out loud and see if it sounds natural.
Rule 5 – Do not preach to the choir
Remember that the person who has come to your site has already decided they need your service or product so you don’t need to try and convince them of the benefits of your industry. Most of your visitors have come to your site with a problem that your services can solve, SO SOLVE THEIR PROBLEM FOR THEM.
Rule 6 – Keep your audience in mind but don’t alienate anyone either
Write to appeal to your target audience, speak like they speak but don’t use so much jargon that you alienate potential new business that don’t know the insider language yet. If you have to use a term that a new client may not understand, explain it straight away, don’t leave people guessing – once confusion sets in the chances that they will keep reading is zero.
Rule 7 – Write with confidence
- A bold one sentence paragraph summary of text reinforces what you’ve just said.
- Use confident words or phrases – now…, okay, essentially, so, in other words, in short, in addition. Many of these words are great for the summary paragraph.
- The words “obviously” and “clearly” are also powerful, confident words but use them sparingly so they don’t lose their effect.
Rule 8 – Use the word “You” a lot.
- When people come to your site they have a problem to solve, using the word you liberally in your copy talks directly to them. You can make key points in bold or in italics or even change the colour of the font. Don’t use underlining as on the web most links are underlined and it creates confusion when a word that is not a link is underlined.
- Use Highlighting and All Caps sparingly.
- Short dashes can be used instead of a comma to represent a pause or add an aside, they look good on the screen and break up the copy nicely.
- Ellipses … typically use it to end a one sentence paragraph when you want the read to pause and think for a second…
- Don’t over do ! and ?
- (Parentheses) – Allows you to put in an aside, or a comment. To step outside of what you are saying without breaking the thought.
Rule 9 – Lots of escape hatches (Calls to Action)
You need to blatantly ask for action and give your reader the opportunity to contact you or buy on a consistent basis. Good sales people know that you don’t get the order unless you ask for it and repeatedly. So put links to contact or buy from you in your copy. After listing some features or benefits give the reader the opportunity to contact you or to read on
Rule 10 – Be an Oreo
Keep in mind what it is that makes you special as a business, what you do better than anyone else out there. Tout it, get people to want you. Find that thing that you do or offer better than anyone else and tell your reader about it.
Do The Web Write – Writing for and Marketing Your Website by Dan Furman