February 10, 2014 Writing for the web

By Natalie Khoo

Writing for the web

People read differently on screen than they do on paper. They do not read word-for-word. Rather, online users have a very narrow focus on particular information they are looking for, so they scan – and skip or ignore content they think is irrelevant.

Be clear: use plain English

To be as clear as possible, use plain English. This means using everyday words and short sentences.

Some examples of clear and simple language include:

  • avoid lengthy phrases i.e. write ‘To’ instead of ‘In order to’

  • use present tense i.e. ‘We deliver’ instead of ‘We will deliver’

  • use active voice i.e. ‘Natalie’s book’ instead of ‘The book that belonged to Natalie’, and

  • use familiar words i.e. ‘understand’ instead of ‘comprehend’ or ‘ascertain’.

Users appreciate straightforward, easy-to-understand information. Do not be fooled into thinking long or unusual words impress your readers; jargon and academic writing will just confuse and/or bore them.

Short simple sentences also make content easier to read. If you use sentences that are too long and wordy, your key messages will most likely be lost or misunderstood.

Get to the point and present it well

People don’t like wasting time. So when writing content, make sure you know what you want to say, and get straight to the point. This helps readers quickly figure out whether what they are looking at is relevant to them.

Also, present your content in an easy-to-scan way:

  • use appropriate headings and subheadings to break text into chunks
  • keep your paragraphs short and stick to one topic for each
  • use simple sentence structures with one thought per sentence
  • use bulleted lists anytime you can itemise information into points
  • if you don’t have a mobile-friendly site, don’t centre text; keep content aligned to the left
  • use images, graphs, charts or tables to convey complex information.

It’s all about your user

When writing, remember to ask yourself:

  • Who is your audience?

  • What are they looking for?

  • What do they know about the topic?

  • What are their reasons for reading this page?

  • Will they understand your jargon, acronyms and abbreviations?

Always have a call to action

When it comes to browsing online, people like being told what to do. Action items at the end of every page encourage your customer to find out more information about your business – or even better, buy on the spot. This maximises your chance of converting potential customers into tangible sales.

This is the number one secret all copywriters use. It dates back as long as anyone in advertising can remember, and applies to all types of content from sales letters to ad campaigns.

In a nutshell, always finish each and every page with a call to action, such as:

  • Read more about our services

  • Check if you’re eligible

  • View our gallery

  • Register now

  • Contact us

  • Buy now.

You can also use them throughout your copy, even at the end of every few paragraphs.

Make sure you link these action items to the appropriate page, gallery, form or contact details you want them to land on. This enables you to steer the user in an appropriate direction rather than the user having to navigate themselves, and perhaps navigate to another site.

Don’t ‘copy and paste’

So you’re thinking, ‘I need a webpage but don’t have time. Oh well, I’ll just use the same content from my catalogue.’ This is a big no-no. You should always use your website as an opportunity to elaborate on your existing offline marketing material.

A huge mistake that many companies make when creating or revamping their website is that they rerun text from existing brochures and ads. Don’t take the easy route and just copy and paste what you’ve already got. Add to it; back it up with valuable information. Write about your business, what you do, your product, or any useful information related to the user’s interests.

If your site is almost identical to your brochure or printed advert, it adds nothing to what the customer has already seen. They’ll most likely lose interest and look elsewhere.

So while maintaining good design and user-friendly navigation, ensure the copy on your site offers more than just the facts from your most recent flyer.

Think of the user journey; someone will see your brochure first then head to the website for more. So make it as informative, engaging, useful and web-friendly as possible. Double check what’s written on your offline marketing material and build on it.

It is surprising how many businesses get this wrong. Your chances of making a sale disappear, and their valuable visit turns into a wasted opportunity.

Engaging a professional copywriter

The words that professional copywriters choose are highly driven by marketing and sales. This plays a big part in your bottom line. They:

  • breathe life into the words on your site

  • identify key messages aligned with your marketing goals

  • explain to readers why your business is unique

  • encourage visitors to keep reading more

  • ensure your collateral serves its purpose and works well with other marketing materials

  • convert users into customers, by getting them to take action and contact you.

Contact Avion Communications today to see how we can help you.