Writing for the Web

Even the contents of a simple website can be, well, complicated.  Consequently, like most projects, it is important to attack with a plan.

Team

Assemble a content team.  There are many aspects to web content and to have content that is well rounded requires a team that is well rounded.  Erin Anderson of Brain Traffic suggests the following team roles: content strategist, a designer, a developer, an editor, a subject matter expert, an information architect, a writer, and reviewers.  This sounds overwhelming, but individuals may take on multiple roles. 

Purpose

Before diving into ideas and text and pictures and color and all of the fun stuff, it is important to understand the purpose of the website.  Is it to teach?  To sell?  Both?  What does the client want site visitors to leave with?  What did the visitor come to the site in search of?

Style Guide

Determine the tone of the site.  Maybe it is chic with a touch of humor.  Maybe it is serious and informative.  Once the style is determined, all content should support this fashion.

Search Words

In the world of web business, everyone wants to be searchable.  It is like having the restaurant location right next to the Fox Theatre, except that instead of getting just the traffic to the latest concert, you have traffic from all over the world looking for the exact thing you are selling.  So, this is pretty important.  Picking search words prior to writing content will allow you to consistently and appropriately litter them throughout your site.

Site Map & Wireframe

Once you have this flood of visitors, they need to know where to go without effort.  Two pieces are important for planning this well, the site map and the wireframe.  The site map breaks down the page arrangement into a hierarchy that lists the pages and subpages.  It allows the web team to have a map of the content on the site.  The wireframe is a visual map of the content within a page.  

Dumbing it down….but with finesse

So, it is time to start writing.   But writing for the web is a little different than writing a novel or a letter or an article. Here are some tips, again provided by Anderson via Interact with Web Standards, on web writing that will reach your audience:

  1. Lead with the big stuff.  Write your conclusion first and then following with the explanation and details.
  2. Think less.  Fewer words are better.  Condense your content.
  3. Write like a person talking to another person (and not a sales person talking to a person).  Be simple and straight forward. 
  4. If it can’t be scanned, it won’t be read.  Typically, web content is only skimmed and not read.  So, follow these scan-able tips:
    • Keep is short and keep these numbers in mind
      • 60 or less words per paragraph
      • 8 words or less for a headline
      • 14 words of less for a subheading
    • Bullets
    • Use headings as guideposts to map the user path and experience
  5. Provide clear headings.  Put time into this.  They should grab the reader’s attention but not be so clever that they can be misinterpreted or slow down the infamous scan.  
  6. Action words can actually inspire action.  So, lead your headings with verbs.  Maybe instead of a link on Jittery Joe’s called “Coffee” it should say “Buy Coffee”.  
  7. Simplicity.  Get your point across in a compact, straightforward way.  
  8. Be true to your word.  Nobody likes it when they get off the interstate because the sign said there was gas at this exit only to find out that it is 4 miles down the road.  If your signs are misleading, people get back on the interstate and now they have animosity riding in the passenger seat.  There are plenty of competitors ready to take your place.  
  9. Remember the reviewers?  Use those team members.  You have been looking at this way too long to catch your own mistakes.
  10. Goof off.  Spend time roaming around the internet.  What sites draw you in?  What sites only kept your attention for seconds?  What sites bring you back and have your credit card on file?  This can also be called research.  Learn from what works and what doesn’t.  
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