Writing Good Website Copy
Writing for the web is different to writing for print. Why? Because people read differently when they're online. To understand how to write good website copy, we need to understand these differences.
Screen readers usually:
scan for keywords rather than reading the body of the text
look at headings, subheadings and images before the words
are often reading on the move
tend to read while doing other things
can be easily distracted
don't read everything we write
These things make our target readers tricky to engage for any length of time. But, we need to communicate our message.
In contrast to digital reading, print reading
is visually less demanding
provides spatial and tactile cues
slows the reader down
allows the reader to absorb more and concentrate better
There are a few other things to consider too. Screens flicker all the time, creating more work for our eyes, and scrolling creates more work for the reader. It doesn't sound like much of a problem, but our memories can generally only hold seven items at a time. The more things added to it, the more we start to lose our concentration.
How do we deal with these differences?
First, we have to recognise them and adjust our web copy accordingly. If we don't, we lose our readers' concentration, absorption and engagement.
Write like you speak. The most successful and effective websites don't use the same language or tone as printed versions. How do we do this?
Avoid long and complex sentences
Use shorter paragraphs
Break chunks of copy into easy-to-read thoughts
Avoid long and difficult to understand words
Be more informal
Be more conversational
Write in the active voice, not the passive
Use present tense, not past
Avoid jargon and technical language
What to do next
Once we've mastered the language, we need to look at how we can keep our readers' concentration on our content. Don't forget – readers are prone to scanning and looking for the takeaway headlines.
Headlines and subheadings – these need to be catchy, short and relevant to the content.
Images and illustrations – keep them relevant and give them compelling captions.
Focused content – your content isn't about you: it's about your reader. What do they want? Knowing the answer to this focuses your message.
Call to action – what do you want the reader to do? Once you know, drive your reader towards it with 'call to action' buttons like 'learn more' or 'Get 50% off here.'
Edit. Cut. Edit. Cut. Edit again.
Consistency – be consistent with both formatting and styles.
If you've followed all of the above, you should now have clear, concise, jargon-free, and engaging digital content. It will visually please your reader and will invite them to take the action you desire.
But don't think – just yet – that you are ready to upload your new content to the website. Even if you don't hire a professional proofreader, copyeditor or copywriter, make sure someone else reads it. There isn't a human in the world (possibly a massive overstatement) who can edit their work without missing mistakes.