Writing for the web is different than writing for traditional print media. Above all else, write your copy and create your webpages with an audience-first mindset. Some guidelines:
- Give people what they want (not what you want) right up front.
- Put what your audience is seeking at the top (key dates, deadlines, critical rules, upcoming events, current news, etc.).
- Put background info and older events/dates at the bottom, on another page, or remove altogether.
- See additional guidelines for making your web content 508 compliant.
Creating Web-Friendly Content
Studies indicate people rarely read webpages word by word. Instead, they scan the page. Keep copy short. Avoid long blocks of unbroken text. Also, most users stick to information they see “above the fold” (top part of the webpage). They will generally only scroll down if they “sniff” something that’s of interest.
Scannable, readable text for webpages includes:
- Meaningful headings and sub-headings.
- Bulleted lists like this one vs. paragraphs (but don’t use a bulleted list for one item!).
- Short paragraphs and short sentences, with one idea per paragraph.
- Pronouns and contractions — less formal style and helps draw in readers.
- Links should begin with the actionable terms. Suggestion from Gerry McGovern: “Have unique beginnings for all your links. The first 3-4 words are so incredibly important on the Web. If you have a guide on how to install a router, write the link: ‘Installation instructions’. Don’t write ‘How to install this router’. Otherwise you’ll have lots of links beginning with ‘How to’. Lead with the need.”
- Limit italics, bold, and all-caps text to short phrases where emphasis is needed.
What to Avoid
- Passive voice — examples:
- Treat fire alarms as the real thing (NOT: All fire alarms should be treated as the real thing.)
- Mrs. Simms opened an account. (NOT: An account was opened by Mrs. Simms.)
- The research department checked your figures. (NOT: Your figures were checked by the research department.)
- Long sentences.
- Unnecessary words (can you cut 40-50%?).
- Jargon, abbreviations, acronyms.
- Information people really don’t care about.
- Too much market-ese and “fluff talk.”
- “Click here” links.
- Mission/vision statements that take up valuable space at the top of your page; put these on your “About” page instead (P.S. Remember that first bullet on this page?).
- Use of clip art.
- Use of “please” and “thank you” on webpages.
- Don’t use PDFs if possible; putting content in HTML is always preferable.
- If the original document (Word, Excel, etc.) is available, convert that to PDF instead of scanning a printout.