How to Write for the Web – Try These 10 Useful Tips
Writing for the web is different from any other type of writing. Why is that so? It’s because website readers are searching for information or thinking about buying a product when they visit a website, rather than reading for enjoyment. They may be looking for a professional service from a dentist, attorney or jeweler. They may want to purchase a new pair of sandals or a good book. They may be researching a great Italian restaurant, or the brewery that just opened up down the block.
Website readers are seeking information, and they don’t want to spend a lot of time finding it. Your visitors will decide very quickly whether your website is useful to them. If they don’t think it is, they will click away to someone else’s website.
How do you write for the web? Try these 10 useful tips:
1 – Understand your visitors
Your website visitors are uniquely yours, and it’s important to understand what information they need and how to best communicate with them. For example, let’s say you are a dentist who provides same day crowns. Your audience may wonder about the quality of the crown, particularly since it’s “same day,” how much experience you have, whether the procedure will be painful, and how much time it will take out of their day. To meet their needs, your website should be written in clear, straightforward language.
On the other hand, let’s say you are a family law attorney who specializes in divorce. Your website visitors want to know that you are capable, understand their problems, can help them through the emotional hurdles they are facing, and are someone they will want to work with over an extended period of time. Your website text should be written from an empathetic perspective, with your clients’ emotional needs in mind.
2 – Put the most important information first
Web visitors quickly glance at a web page and make a decision within seconds. They want to know: Am I on the right website? Do they have what I need? To satisfy your reader, you’ll want to put the most important text first, and then provide additional information. Journalists call this way of writing the inverted pyramid. In news articles the most newsworthy information usually comes first, before the details.
Let’s say that you are a landscape architect who specializes in designing beautiful, water-efficient gardens. The banner of your website home page or your first sentence could say, “Our landscape designs are both beautiful and water-efficient.” Then, the following text would talk about your company, the types of landscape designs you do, such as residential and commercial gardens, and your service area.
When your readers want the details, you would send them to pages with supplemental information. You could have an About Us page that describes your company’s history and philosophy, another page for your commercial work, one for residential work, one for your portfolio of projects, and a Testimonials page. Your readers could choose how deep they want to go by clicking to the additional pages.
By laying out the information you want to convey in this manner, you’ll make it easier for both people and search engines to understand what your company does and what you offer.
3 – Use the words your audience uses
It’s often hard for a business owner to communicate what they offer in layperson’s terms. When that happens, their website is full of insider language and industry jargon. Here is just one example. If you are an insurance broker that offers health insurance for businesses, you may think of your product as just that: business health insurance. Your potential clients, on the other hand, are looking for employee health insurance, since they want to cover their employees. It’s important, especially if you want your website to come up high in search engine results, to use your audience’s language.
4 – Make your text easy to skim and scan
Your visitors don’t want to spend a lot of time on your website trying to find the information they need. To make it easier for them, make your text easy to skim and scan and break it up into manageable chunks.
How do you do that? First, cover only one topic per paragraph and lead with the most important information. Break up your text with descriptive subheadings, so your visitors will know if they want to read a particular paragraph or section. Break up your text even more with graphics and images. Write in bullet points rather than paragraphs whenever it makes sense. Make your website text easy to digest.
5 – Write short, simple sentences and paragraphs
Your audience doesn’t want to work too hard figuring out what you do. In fact, according to Yoast, provider of the Yoast SEO plugin, your website content should be easily understood by 13-15-year-old students. To meet this need, you’ll want to keep your sentences simple and easy to understand. Then, use short paragraphs of three or four sentences max.
A caveat – back to knowing your audience. Let’s say you sell highly technical equipment used by engineers. In that case, you’ll want to write with enough detail that your text meets the expectation of those engineers. Your text may need to include a lot of details and your sentences and paragraphs would be longer that what is described above.
6 – Write in an approachable style
Your website should speak to your readers in an approachable style. That means using the pronoun “you” liberally throughout your text. When, you speak about your company, use “we.”
7- Expect people to land anywhere
When you read a book, you usually start in chapter one and move forward from there. Websites, though, are different. Because of search engines, someone can land anywhere on a website, not just the home page. Think: how often have you landed on a business’s services page rather than the home page? Or, their blog post?
What does that mean for your website? Every page needs to “stand on its own,” and include your company name, logo and contact information. Every page should tell your visitors who you are as a business, along with the detailed information of that page. Lastly, each page should have a call to action telling the visitor where to go next—to contact you for a free quote, sign up for your newsletter, add a product to a shopping cart, etc.
8 – Make it super easy for people to contact you
Many of people will use a smart phone to find you, so you’ll want to make sure your phone number is listed in your banner. Don’t make them wade through submenus to figure out how to reach you. And, include a contact page with your business name, address and a contact form, so that people can reach out to you at 2:00 am, if that is what their schedule allows.
9 – Incorporate SEO for higher search visibility
Having a beautifully designed website with thoughtfully crafted language will do your business little good, if online searchers can’t find it. Consider your audience again. What search terms are they likely to type into Google to find you? Make sure those terms are included in your page titles, headings, sub-headings and text. If getting found online is important to your business, hire an SEO specialist who can help you succeed.
10 – Don’t try to be everything to everybody
Lastly, know who you are and who you serve. Then, make your text appeal to that audience. You don’t need to write perfect text the first time around. Once your content is live, ask for feedback from your customers, clients and others. Look at your Google Analytics data to see where your visitors are coming from. Take it all in and decide what you want to change. Reviewing your website at least every six months is just a good business practice.
Want to get a practical sense of your website’s effectiveness? Contact me for a free website review.
Carolyn Kohler is an SEO writer who specializes in helping businesses get found online. Her company is Website Wordsmith, and she is located in the San Francisco Bay Area.