You’ve only got a handful of seconds to grab the attention of your visitors, so how do you make your website content count?
Early on in the web design process, your designer will ask you to supply the written content for each page of your new website. Whether you’re starting from scratch and have very little to go on, or you already have a website but you’re going through a redesign, it’s important to take a long hard look at your content before going live.
That doesn’t mean you should jump in blindly and start cobbling together content from various sales materials. Website content is a different beast altogether, with a greater emphasis on usability, engagement and – everyone’s favourite – search engine optimisation.
Don’t panic – here are some of my own tips to help get you started on your website content writing journey.
6 tips for writing user-friendly website content
Know who your users are
Firstly, I’ll be using the term ‘users’ here as a catch-all term for the people you’re looking to engage with, but basically we’re talking about your target audience.
If you don’t already have a good grasp on who your users are, what they need, and why they’ve come to you, then it’s time to do some user research.
This doesn’t have to involve paying participants to take part in a panel event with a free lunch – just ask a handful of your customers (or prospective customers) if they will sit with you for 30 minutes by video call and answer a few questions.
At the very least, ask them to complete a short questionnaire in their own time. Google Forms or SurveyMonkey are both free to use and easy to set up.
Here are some useful user research questions (PDF) you might like to ask. You can then use your findings to develop user personas, which will help you move on to my next tip.
Get to know who your users are by conducting user research interviews.
Answer the question
One thing your user research should have helped to clarify is why people are coming to your website, and what task they’re trying to accomplish.
All website searches are essentially the user looking for the answer to a question, whether it’s ‘when will it rain?’, ‘where is the nearest dog grooming salon?’ or ‘what is this rash on my leg?’
In the wonderful world of web marketing, we call this search intent.
If the user can’t find the information they’re looking for – and remember you only have seconds to serve it up to them – they’ll leave and go elsewhere. This is why it’s crucial to work out the user’s search intent before you put pen to paper.
Thinking about the user’s search intent at an early stage will also set you up for a well search engine-optimised site.
Understand how people read
During my recent work as a content writer on central government projects, I had to write according to a specific style guide, the essence of which is ‘write so that a nine-year-old can understand it’.
This is based on the idea that ‘children quickly learn to read common words (the 5,000 words they use most). They then stop reading these words and start recognising their shape. This allows people to read much faster. Children already read like this by the time they’re 9 years old.’ (Author: GDS Style Guide)
Bear in mind that:
- most users only read 20-28% of a web page
- people don’t read every word – their eyes will bounce around the paragraph or page, anticipating and filling in any words they haven’t read
- the human brain can drop up to 30% of a piece of text and still understand it’s meaning
- people are more likely to skip shorter words (less than 5 letters) if they come after a longer word (more than 8 letters), so avoid using long words to prevent the reader from skipping ahead
Keeping these points in mind will also help you write in a way that’s accessible for people with learning disabilities, so really it’s a win-win.
Understanding the basics of how people read can really help when writing website content.
Talk to your users like you’re a human being sharing information with another human being.
An easy way to do this is to address the user as “you”, and refer to your organisation as “we” and “us”.
Try to use the same everyday language they use to immediately engage and connect with your audience, without making them work for it. This doesn’t mean you should throw in some slang or swear words, but don’t use intimidating language full of technical terms and jargon.
Your audience may be clued-up in a particular field, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to be bombarded with long words and complex ideas that they need to decode before they can find what they’re looking for.
Once you’ve worked out how to answer their question, don’t bury the information somewhere low down on the page in a bid to keep the user on your site for longer.
Get to the point, and be snappy about it. Like a journalist writing an article, front-load the really interesting and useful information near the top of the page, then back it up with supporting information as you move further down the page.
Make it easy for the user to find information and then use other means to keep them engaged – think video, infographics and interesting imagery placed among your written content.
Also, consider what else they might need to know once you’ve answered their question. For example, on a web page dedicated to your best selling car cleaning product, include links to related blog posts on topics such as ‘Top tips for spring cleaning your car’ or ‘3 mistakes people make when cleaning their car’.
This is a great way to keep the user on your website, and time spent on your site = SEO boost.
Striking imagery spread throughout your website content is a great way to maintain engagement.
It’s not all about you
Describing your business to potential customers can quickly descend into a vanity project. You instantly zone in on what you want the user to hear, such as how many awards you’ve won, how you were the first to do this or that, and how you have a huge team across different offices.
Reality check: no one really cares about this stuff but you.
First and foremost, you need to tell the user what they want to know, then pop all that other stuff away somewhere down at the bottom of a page (or in your sales collateral), if that’s what you need to do to keep management happy.
Structure matters too
Think beyond the words you’re using to how you structure information on the page.
Use short sentences and paragraphs, aiming for no more than 20 words in a sentence, and around five sentences in a paragraph.
I try not to write sentences with too many commas, hyphens or semicolons. If you find you’re getting heavy on the grammar, it’s better to break up the sentence before it loses flow and the meaning gets confused.
Use headings, sub-headings and lists to break content down into chunks, making it easier for the user to scan the text for the information they need.
Lastly, consider whether some content would actually work better presented visually, such as in an infographic or diagram, or as a compelling image or video.
Consider how you could use visuals to make a statement instead of relying on just text.
Why good web content matters
If you want a website that truly works for you, then remember that content is everything.
A website with well-written content will perform better in search engines and bring you more organic traffic, then convert your visitors into paying customers once they’re on the site.
If you’ve got to this point and have decided that content writing isn’t for you, it’s time to get a professional involved. A professional website content writer will work with you to distill your key business messages into a way that’s appealing for your target audience
Talk to me today about how to make your web content more effective, impactful and engaging.