Just as website navigation is a unique narrative structure, writing web content follows unique writing conventions.
Why? Because that’s the way we work as readers.
When we pick up our tablet or our website, we rarely read word for word. Research has shown the average reading time is 25 per cent slower on a screen, so we skim, searching for keywords.
And, because we don’t want to scroll, we won’t.
The result? Your web copy had better be short, concise and very easy to navigate. Otherwise, you’ll lose your readers in less time than it takes them to click their mouse.
The way your readers read demands your web and other digital content should be written to suit.
To take a practical example: The length of copy and type of language used in a corporate letter or marketing communications are too long and formal for a digital environment. Aim instead for half the words you’d use in a paper document. And then cut in half again.
And to take another example: Think of a news story. It has the main info up the top, short and snappy sentences, and clear headings. Web and digital writing follows the same convention.
At New Word Order, we have established eight hallmarks for effective web writing, and we use these to assess our clients’ site and the work we provide them:
1. Write in short sentences and paragraphs
Aim for short sentences, each with one or two clauses.
Each paragraph should contain no more than 2–3 sentences, and altogether a page of content should fit comfortably within the web page without requiring the reader to scroll. The optimum line length is 8–12 words.
Including useful and interesting facts keeps readers’ attention longer than ‘motherhood’ or general statements. They’re more believable, too.
2. Use headlines and sub-headings
Headlines and sub-headings are an effective way to guide a reader through their skimming of a web page. Since research tells us readers rarely read every word on a website, it makes sense to prioritise what they see – and headlines and sub-headings do this well.
Make headlines and sub-headings factual, not fanciful. This enables readers to rapidly scan useful keywords.
3. Write in plain English
While plain English should be the aim of all of your publications, it’s especially important in a digital environment.
Plain English means using words the average Australian reader can easily understand.
That means you should:
4. Use informal voice
Unlike general corporate writing, digital environments demand a more informal voice.
This means using ‘you’, ‘we’ and other pronouns to speak directly to the reader within the text. Formal language is out.
5. Use common language conventions
Effective web writing uses language conventions found more commonly in conversation.
This means using:
6. Get to the point
Writing for digital environments takes discipline, because readers have little tolerance for fluffy language, repetition, ‘happy talk’ or unnecessary explanations of what’s already evident on the page.
To write direct, straight-to-the-point copy:
7. Use active voice
Active voice is a way of structuring information that allows you to focus on the subject and cut excess words. Following this method enables quick readability.
Active voice places the subject first in a sentence, followed by the action.
Active voice: New Word Order opened in 1998.
Passive voice: New Word Order was opened in1998.
8. Structure content well
The most important information should always be placed first on a web page, and the web layout and navigation should be consistent and logical to a reader.
A good rule of thumb for navigation is organise the content to suit how the reader needs to discover it.
With only a few exceptions, your website should go no deeper than three levels of navigation. Too many websites go down rabbit warrens.
To structure new web content, follow this checklist:
In my next blog, I’ll touch on the art of SEO writing: writing your digital content so it helps your web rankings. It’s a murky science – or at best, a black art – but the basics are important to master.