Web Writing–It's Different

Our web presence series and my attention to content continues.

Many people get sidetracked by design and then manage to forget all about their content. But, in the end, a great design will never make up for lousy content.

If you are using the Web for business, it pays to have a web presence strategy that takes content into account.

If you have to start writing for the Web or end up in charge of what needs to be written, I encourage you to start looking around for writing you like to read while you’re gearing up.

As always, a reminder–your website may be about you, but it is not for you. It is for your audience—the end user. Who’s that? I don’t know exactly, but you should be able to tell me.

Know your audience. Use their language. Get over the urge to have beautiful text and embrace the serviceable.

Clarity counts when you’re creating  the text that will help people navigate your site, understand what you do, and discover what they want.

Don’t fool yourself, if your end user doesn’t clearly understand what each click of the mouse gets them, frustration and flight will soon follow. Your labeling and language MUST BE CLEAR to other people, not just you (listen to Steve Krug on this one!).

Your language and labels should be be distinct. You don’t want visitors getting lost on your site due to similar sounding language that refers to different things.

Have you ever driven in circles when visiting a community (The Ponds) where all streets have the same word (Pond) in their name? I have. It’s just as bad as being lost in a site where all the navigation uses cutesy, similar language.

Before you start writing for the Web, pay attention to how you read on the Web. Ask some other people, or watch them if it isn’t creepy.

People mostly just scan web pages for what they want to find. Jakob Nielsen’s been talking for years about Web-use patterns, and people do NOT read web pages like books or articles. Write to complement the way your audience reads. They’ll appreciate it.

That brings me to length and density–just say no. Take what you think should be written and cut it in half. Again. Make sure you use simple sentences, even to explain complex thoughts. I know, I know. It is much harder to write with clarity and brevity. Get used to it. Don’t you appreciate it?

If you have a lot to say about some specific topic, you can go into more detail. Just don’t make your audience slog through the long version first.

Think executive summary, abstract, or elevator speech for your main content, and then create another place to put expanded content–an article or download is great for the people who want more in-depth information. Most people either won’t care or won’t bother.

Do Use:

  • Visual cues to help your reader
  • White Space
  • Small paragraphs
  • Bullet points

Plan For End Users that:

  • are always in a hurry,
  • make quick decisions about your site based on gut feelings,
  • navigate your site intuitively. Help them.

Always Remember:

  • Simplicity for the end-user matters.
  • Don’t confuse, bore, or babble.
  • End users are in it for themselves—to get what THEY want. Your job is to make it enjoyable.
  • Don’t think anyone cares what you want them to get from your web presence. They want what they want.
  • Don’t imagine that the meaning you assign to a word or phrase will be understood as you intended every time. People read from wherever they are, and they often use language differently.
  • Be generous with your reader and work hard to say what you mean in an understandable way.

Yes, I’m still saying that your end users matter most. On your site no less!