Caught up in the zeal of communicating an important social message, it’s easy to lose sight of your average website user, and as a result lose him entirely.
The key to better website copy is to understand how people read on the web.
- I’ll keep this brief. On an average visit, users have time to read about 20% of the words on a page.
- You, like most users, will probably only scan this page, so I’ll bold keywords and phrases,
- And use a bulleted list.
These tactics are the conclusions of web usability guru Jakob Nielsen, and supported by his firm’s studies using eyetracking technology. Other recommendations of his – the inverted pyramid and one idea per paragraph – borrow from news writing basics.
Start balancing these recommendations with everything from the wonky intricacies of SEO, to finding the proper voice and tone for your organization, to recognizing stakeholder concerns, and you can appreciate the challenges of writing for the web.
There is no magical formula. The tactics listed here are common fundamentals to effective web copy, but striking the right balance is unique to the context.
If you remember one thing: keep it brief.
- Get it straight from the horse’s mouth; everyone and their mom cites Jakob Nielsen when discussing this topic.
- While written for a university audience, you can apply these lessons to pretty much any website. (Plus, UNC is my alma mater, so you know it’s good.)