How to write great website copy
Written on the 6 February 2012
Research indicates that almost 80% of Internet users scan the content of a web page rather than read each word.
So, instead of taking a few minutes to read your page word for word, they will quickly run their eyes over the page from left to right, looking for something that is relevant to them. If they find a headline, a list or a sentence that interests them, they will stop and read that section, then continue scanning the rest of the page.
This means that only 2 out every 10 people that visit your website are actually taking the time to fully read the copy you have crafted for your site. People scan rather than read as reading from a screen is hard, they are time-poor and there are other things competing for their attention
The way people read on the Internet greatly affects the way you should write your website content. You need to make your website easy to scan and make important information stand out.
Read on for 10 tips to improve your website copy for readers.
Tip 1 – Halve your word count
To start with, you need to write less on the Internet than you would for other mediums, like a letter or brochure. A good general rule is to write half as much as you typically would.
The key to this is editing – write like you normally would, and then spend a lot of time editing your work to cut it down. Go through your writing paragraph by paragraph and take out everything that isn’t completely relevant to the main idea of the page. Then go through each sentence and replace and rewrite to get each one as succinct as possible. Tough editing will ensure that your page isn’t ‘waffle’ and that all the content will get read.
Tip 2 – Avoid promotional writing
One thing all web users really hate is marketing hype. They want to get the facts in the shortest amount of time possible and don’t want to have to sift through all your promotional exaggerations.
Avoid using phrases that you can’t back up with actual information, such as “number one in the world”, cliched marketing hype like “cutting-edge” and generally overused selling words like “fantastic” and “amazing”. These types of words are just cluttering your page and making it harder for readers to find the message, so don’t use them unless they really are necessary.
Tip 3 – Use bullet point lists
Information that is displayed in a bullet point list is easier to read than blocks of text and makes your page look cleaner and less cluttered. To improve the readability of your page, use bulleted lists whenever possible.
According to a study conducted by web writing guru Jakob Neilsen, copy with a bulleted list is 47% easier to read than the same information displayed in a block of text. So by simply putting some of your information into a list, you can drastically improve the readability of your website and help users understand your message.
Tip 4 – Write in the inverted pyramid style
When you’re writing for your website, you need to write like a newspaper journalist does – start with the most important information. Decide on what the main message of your page is (your conclusion) and put that at the top of your page. Then from there, explain all the other details and secondary information from most important to least important.
Structuring your page like this means that a person only has to read the first one or two paragraphs of your page to get the information they want. Your time-poor readers will appreciate not having to sift through 10 paragraphs to find what they want, which will make them more likely to take an action on your site like buy or sign up.
Tip 5 – Use headings throughout your text
Headings have two purposes in online copy – they break up the text for visual appeal and also to help the reader navigate through the copy. You should always start your page with a main heading to tell the reader what the page is about. You should then use a series of headings to identify each section of the copy on your page.
Readers expect your headings to be formatted differently to the rest of your text and in decreasing sizes to make it easy for them to find their way around. Keeping the fonts the same improves readability, and the different sized and formatted fonts will make it far easier for people to read your website.
Tip 6 – Stick to simple language
Most people that use the Internet read at the level of a Grade 8 student. So if your website copy contains lots of big fancy words and technical jargon, it will go straight over the heads of your users and they will be missing your message.
Go through your copy carefully and note all the long, complicated or technical words, and then either delete them or swap them for a simpler word that means the same thing. When it comes to jargon, try to replace technical terms with different words if possible, but if you have to use it, make sure you explain what it means .
Tip 7 – Use hyperlinks through your text
Hyperlinks are an integral part of the Internet. A hyperlink is an image or piece of text that takes the user to another location when clicked on. Using hyperlinks throughout your text is a great way to shorten your word length and keep your information really relevant, because it allows you to direct users to another place to read more detailed information.
For example, a greengrocer has a page about the fruit and vegetable he sells, and links the name of each item to its own individual page with more information. When including hyperlinks, make sure it looks ‘clickable’ – if it just looks like normal text, no one will click on it, so underline it or make it a different colour.
Tip 8- include lots of white space
Using white space is the number one rule of design and it also applies to writing on the web. White space is exactly that – white space on a page that has no text or images in it. The use of white space is essential on every page of your website, because it improves readability and makes the page look professional and clean.
You can incorporate white space into your text by increasing your margins and using short paragraphs with a line break between each one.
Tip 9 - Stick to one idea per paragraph
To make your copy easier to scan, you should make sure each paragraph contains only one idea or topic. You should make the idea of each paragraph clear by ensuring that each paragraph has a topic sentence that explains what the paragraph is about. Doing this means that a reader can see the topic sentence and know immediately if they need to read your paragraph or not.
Tip 10 - Use keywords
Your copy is important because Google uses it to rank your page in its search listings. Using and repeating keywords throughout your content will make your Google ranking higher, so find out what words your target market search by and incorporate these.
As you can see, writing for the web requires different skills and a different mindset to other forms of writing. Follow these tips to ensure your site visitors can find the information they need quickly, which will make them more likely to become customers.