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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.


Language


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

  • Avoid clichés


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.


Finally


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.



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©2021 by Julie Pinborough