Writing well for the web

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The content on your website needs to be even more carefully thought out than the content on your brochures. This article offers some useful advice on where to start when writing for the web.

Get Read

To start with, web users don't read pages. They scan them, looking for interesting information. They always want to move on and don't always believe what they read.

To gain and keep their attention; you need to be relevant, interesting, up-to-date, brief, consistent, easy to understand and accurate.

Know your audience

A good place to start is with your audience. Think very carefully about who they are. This is obviously easier to do if your business is aimed at a niche market. If not; remember that you can't be all things to all people - and find out who your most profitable customer group is. Aim your content at them.

How do they talk, how do they think, what do they know and what do they want to know? Ensure you know your audience and write at their level and in their language. Make it relevant to them.

Get scannability

Write in an inverted pyramid (say the point and then explain it). Start with a really good headline that offers relevant benefits of reading the text. Next, summarise your point. Put the who, what, where, when and how in the first two sentences. In the next paragraph, briefly explain the why and then move on.

Ensure you write paragraphs on pages to be read out of order. Remember that people have different sized screens and won't generally scroll down to find out whether or not the information is interesting. Put the main points at the top of the page in bold.

Ensure you are up to date

Keeping your information up to date is hugely important. This is becoming more and more the case. More companies are moving over to content management systems and updating their content regularly. Being out of date even by days will hugely damage your credibility.

Keep it brief

Leading sentences are 10-20 words. Keep it short. There is a limited amount of time that people stay on websites for. They don't lie on the sofa to read the web or carry it around with them (apart from possibly on a tiny phone screen). People read 10-20% slower online and screens are still tiring to read. You need to get the main point across quickly and clearly; briefly explain it and move on.

Stay Consistent

Don't continually re-brand yourself on each page. You should also bear in mind that the language you use in your other (offline) marketing materials must be consistent with the language you use online.

Be understandable

Explain everything you say. Don't make assumptions about your readers' intelligence and don't be impenetrable in your turn of phrase. A great marketing strength lies in being able to explain what it is that you do and why it is that you do it so well; to someone who has no idea about your field of work.

Be correct

Credibility is a big problem on the web. Many people believe that the information they read online is not as credible as information in hard copy. To avoid fuelling this misconception, your content must be extremely good, and above all it must be 100% correct.


Publication Date: Thursday 18th September, 2003
Author: Polly Nelson View profile

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