How to Write for the Web: 3 Essential Tips
Greetings! Today, Heather is stripping it down to the triage of online copywriting essentials with three tips on how to write for the Web.
For those of you who come from a print freelance copywriting background, or for those who own a small business or are otherwise in the do-it-yourself (DIY) mode, these tips are all the more important for you to know.
Tune in to learn how to structure your copy for the Web in a way that makes it easier for folks to read, and thereby easier for them to take action, buy from you, or give you a call… In short, convert!
Writing for the Web is different…
One of the reasons that writing for the Web is different is that we know people are scanning copy first, then reading. This makes for a completely different experience than reading offline (print) copy.
According to Jakob Nielsen, a widely-recognized expert in web usability:
- People scan first, THEN read. 79 percent of people scan a new website, picking up individual words and sentences.
- If people are viewing your site on a mobile, they may not want to “pinch” and scroll if the content is hard to read.
Speaking to the first point, regarding scanning vs. reading, this means that folks aren’t reading Web copy word-for-word as they would print copy. Instead they are quickly scanning the Web page, and if they arrive on your page from a search, then they’re looking for those search terms or some variation of them to ensure they’re arrived at the right place.
And as to the second point, if you consider your own behavior when checking out a blog post on your mobile toy of choice, you know that it is a completely different experience than if you were sitting at home at your desktop.
With any and all Web copy, you don’t want to greet your reader with a big block of text with no white spaces.
Learning how to write for the online environment is critical. And it’s also important that you realize that people may be accessing your site from a variety of different devices, such as mobile.
That said, here are three tips for writing Web copy that will get read.
Tip #1: Write short, tight paragraphs
What you can get away with in the print world won’t necessarily translate well to the online world.
Considering this first example of well-written copy – it works very well for the print readers’ perspective…but no so well from the Web readers’ point of view.
Reading the copy online, it comes off as “chokey”: it’s hard to figure out what the copy is about because it appears as if there’s a lot of information crammed into a very small space.
Now compare the first example of copy with the second example: this is much easier to read. We’re using the same words, but what we did is select certain sentences and make them stand alone.
See the difference? By simply pulling out key sentences, it allows us to have more white space and it allows us to have more “punch” with those key sentences.
And, if you were reading this on a mobile, it’d be much easier on the eyes than the first example of otherwise sound copy.
Tip #2: Use bullet points – bullet points are your friends
This especially applies if you’re writing things that involve lists or other enumerated content: it is tempting to just use commas and such that will make for a longer paragraph.
And while this may work in the print world, it won’t in the online world.
So, looking at the example of using bullet points to further break out your Web copy, you can see that there’s more white space, it’s easier to read, and all the while the words are exactly the same – they’re just structured in a reader-friendly way.
Summarizing tips #1 and #2 (and other points along the way):
- Use shorter paragraphs with lots of white space.
- Ruthlessly edit your copy. Don’t say in five words what you can see in three.
- Provide information in bulleted lists.
- Create interesting, engaging copy. The most easy-to-read layout won’t help dirt-dull, boring copy. Trust me.
And now, here’s…
Tip #3: Sub-headlines are great for SEO – and readers!
Revisiting what we’ve learned regarding reader scanning vs. what is actually read, we know from old school, direct mail days that prospects tend to scan headlines and sub-headlines.
Why? To make sure that the copy meets their needs and to determine whether they want to keep reading.
So some food for Web-writing thought for sub-headlines are:
- They’re a great way to break up the page
- They need to be compelling, due to the scanning readers we’re trying to capture
- They should include a benefit statement whenever possible
- They should include keyphrases
photo credit to: NKPhillips
These 3 critical tips really apply to ANY digital or direct marketing copy. It’s true that recipients of direct mail scan, and magazine and newspaper readers will scan ads rather than read them line by line, word for word.
For most website visits, visitors are there to accomplish a task. So visitors tend to click on the “first logical” link, and when they get to a page, then tend to scan — to find what they’re looking for, or determine whether this page is of interest.
The tip I always suggest for writing headlines and subheads: if I just read your headlines and subheads, would I learn the key points you want me to learn on that page? If so, your “scannable” elements have been written correctly.