A writing mentor of mine once remarked that writing for the web is like composing a poem—you’re trying to convey as much as possible within the short space of a few words and sentences.
Research shows that people read differently on the internet. Their attention spans are shorter, they tend to scan and they make decisions within the blink of an eye on whether to stay on a website.
- Visitors leave a page within the first 10-20 seconds of clicking (Nielson Normal Group).
- If they stay, they’ll read at most 28 percent of the words on the page (Nielson Normal Group).
- They’ll judge a website within 50 milliseconds based on its design (International Weekly Journal of Science, Carleton University).
With that in mind, it’s important that web copy is clear, precise and presented well—otherwise, visitors simply will leave and move on to the next site. Here are five tips when writing for an online audience:
1) Stick the important information at the beginning.
Cliffhangers are great for the movies, but it’s best to get to the point when it comes to your web content.
Since the typical user only stays on a page for seconds, answer the most basic questions—who, what, where, when, why and how—right out of the gate. Then, explain why your content matters, following that with supporting evidence and background information.
In the mood to learn some marketing lingo? This style of writing is called the Inverted Pyramid, in which you prioritize information by descending order of importance.
2) Use signposts and bullets.
Big blocks of text can be off-putting for online readers, who typically skim rather than read everything on the page. (Slate has an excellent article poking fun at how we read on the web that’s also informative).
Use subheaders to break up text and organize your information. For lists, consider using bulleted points so the content is easier to scan.
3) Don’t use jargon.
Keep the language simple in your online copy. Using that dollar-sized word might have been great on your SATs, but when it comes to online copy, they’re a pain.
Jargon by nature is exclusive, and those online readers who aren’t immediately aware of your industry’s terms will seek other information that’s easier to understand.
4) Keep it lean.
Cut the fluff. Ask yourself, “Does this add to the article? Is this information necessary?”
From a language standpoint, the words “that” and “just” often are ones you can eliminate from copy, along with adjectives, adverbs and prepositions.
Original sentence: 31 words
“Earlier this morning, Sally Smith, the director of marketing, relayed to the audience of nearly 500 at the annual conference that developing content for mobile audiences is becoming increasingly important nowadays.”
Edited sentence: 16 words
“Marketing Director Sally Smith said at the conference that mobile content is more important than before.”
5) Use supporting links.
Provide supporting evidence for your online copy by linking to current, relevant and authoritative voices on the subject matter. Just be sure to not go overboard with the links; add them where they make sense.