Picture how you might read a book on a cold winter evening curled up on a chair in front of a crackling fire. Now picture yourself on the phone, texting someone, checking email and clicking through web pages to figure out when you need to leave town to get to your annual meeting. Guess which model more closely matches a typical website visitor . . .
Writing for the web typically means allowing site visitors to find critical information as quickly as possible, while making a deeper level of information available for users who want it. Here are some quick guidelines to keep in mind if you’re trying to reduce your users’ burden:
Understand the mission of the page. What does “success” look like for the page you are creating? Clicking a “Join now” button? Registering for the annual meeting? Taking an online course. Keep your eye on the prize.
- Use the inverted pyramid style of writing. Make sure the “what,” “who,” “when,” and “where” of the content are all stated right up front, preferably in the first sentence. Whatever else you have to say can be farther down the page and available to visitors who want to read it.
- Know your audience. Think about literacy level, what type of device the page will be viewed on, non-native English speakers, and whether you’re using the language your audience uses.
- Write for different presentation contexts. Pieces of pages will be presented to users in different ways. Some may see only the title (in a search result or list page), some may see the short description, and others may see snippets sent by other users. Try to achieve the goals of the content in all of these content elements.
You have a precious few seconds for your page to convince a visitor that he or she has arrived at a worthy destination. Make the most of them. “Easy reading is damn hard writing,” as they say. And the same goes double for web pages. But hard work up front can lead to rewards in the form of an appreciative web audience.