Web Site Writing: How to Write so Your Site Will Be Read

By Lisa Gullette, CreatiVisibility, January 2008

To appeal to online users, use the points below when writing content for your Web site:

Understand that users skim Web pages more than they read entire content of pages.

Be concise and relevant.

Keep paragraphs one to three sentences in length.

Use bullet points for listing information.

Format your site with headings and subheadings to separate topics.

Make your site friendly for impaired users.

Use text relevant links instead of “click here.”

Do not underline anything, unless it is a link.

Proofread your site.

There are many styles of writing: writing for technical manuals, writing for newsletters, journalistic styles, but to have your content on your Web site easily accessible, you must consider how people read Web pages as well as the meaning of the text.

Web readers want information, and they want it fast. With the exception of Weblogs (Blogs), people generally do not read the Web for leisure reading. Paragraphs on the Web do not follow the same rules that you learned in your 5th grade English class. With this in mind, follow the points below when writing for the Web.

Use Relevant Paragraphs

Write only relevant content. Put your conclusions near the beginning of your paragraph so that your point is stated first, then expand upon it. Keep the paragraphs very short with only one idea per paragraph. People skim Web pages, they don’t read every word.

Use Simple Wording

Avoid slang and specialized meanings unless you define them. Keep your action words flowing to keep interest in your site. Passive voice doesn’t speak to the reader. Use the more common, basic word in a sentence such as the word “try” rather than “endeavor.” Avoid complex sentence structure.

Show Lists and Headings/Subheadings

Bulleted lists provide very fast information to readers. When formatting the information for your site, use lists up to 10 items per topic with concise language. You want people to read your information; make it as convenient to read as possible or users go on to another site for information.

Use many headings and subheadings. Readers jump to headings while skimming the page. People using assistive technology that will read the page aloud use a keyboard key to jump to each heading before reading under the heading. If the user is sight-impaired, they will not see any of your bold text or neat photos that enhance your text, so use subheadings when you can.

Use Text and Images Separately

Use graphic images and photos to add to the site’s usefulness for sighted visitors, but consider how the text reads to someone who cannot see the images or who has the image viewing turned off on their computer. For instance, avoid statements that are only clear when images are viewable such as, “Look below the red bar on the right, for more information.” Instead, use a statement like, “More information is available on this Web page under ‘Registration Information’.”

Hyperlink Correctly

Links in your Web site text should not distract from the flow of reading. Link the keywords that readers see within the body copy that are intuitive as to where the link goes. Avoid the unprofessional, “click here” in your body copy.

For example the underlined word in the following sentence would indicate the path of the link to that underlined word. “Your application can be mailed or faxed to this office.” It is standard to assume the underlined word links to that application or a page that details that application process. Try to avoid “Click here to view the application.” It not only breaks the flow of reading, but when skimming with screen reading technology only the underlined word is heard, so “click here” means nothing, and the link to “application” tells the user what information is expected.

Because hyperlinks are most often set as underlined word as a visual clue, do not use underlined text to emphasize your text. Use bold, italics, and heading or subheadings properly tagged in your code.

For more information about CreatiVisibility and how it can help you create, build, efficiently publish your Web site and other marketing pieces, contact us through the Web: www.CreatiVisibility.com.