Writing for the Web
Easy reading is damn hard writing. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne
Writing for your website audience requires a writing style suitable for the medium, the internet. People do not read online in the same ways as traditional print media. Due to the dynamic nature of the web, and the fact that its users are usually in a hurry, people tend to digest online content very rapidly.
Internet users tend to scan text instead of read it. If they can’t find something of interest they simply click the back button and try something else, often within seconds. Therefore your writing should allow users to easily digest your content. If it seems to interest them they may pause and actually read more of it.
The techniques outlined below not only assist readers with reading your content, some will help the search engines in determining the topic of your pages and the keywords to rank it for.
Topics of this Page
- Write Short Paragraphs
- Keep Pages Short
- Use Heading and Sub-Headings
- Use Bold, Italic and Underlined Text for Emphasis
- Use Bullet & Number Lists
- Use Hyperlinks Within your Text
Write Short Paragraphs
Long drawn out paragraphs will have web readers clicking the back button faster than you can say…well… “click”. Keep your writing short and concise and omit needless fluff. They don’t want to read it anyways.
Keep Pages Short
Don’t follow our example! These pages are long, we know, but we have a lot of information to present here and we are using large fonts and wide line spacing to make it easier to read. This type of website is the exception to the rule, maybe. Notice how we also break up the content with headings and subheadings.
People prefer not to have to scroll down long pages. But they are used to scrolling so they will do so if need be. If your pages are long be sure to place the juiciest stuff at the top in order to grab a readers attention.
That said, people will scroll down if your content interests them. They are used to using the side scroll bar or a scroll wheel on their mouse. If your web designer tried to be different and create pages that require horizontal scrolling then slap him/her up side of the head! It’s rare but we have seen it. Your visitors simply won’t scroll to the side.
Use Heading and Sub-Headings
Headings are a great way to break up text and make it easier to read and, particularly on the internet, make it easy to scan. Notice how we use headings and sub-headings, the larger bolder fonts, to categorize content on these pages.
Headings can also emphasize the keywords of the page (in Google’s eyes). It is wise to use keywords or semantic variations of your keywords and key phrases within your headings. For more on using headings and search engine optimization click here.
In HTML code, headings use numbered tags <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc. where 1 is the highest order heading and each number is one order lower. When you write a post the title at the top should be set in <h1> tags at the top of the post when it is published (unless your theme is configured to do something different). Subsequent sub-headings in your text can use the <h2>, <h3>, etc. tags. Sub-headings can be nested to maintain the correct flow of sub-headings within a higher ordered heading. For example;
This will produce something like this;
Main Heading or Title
The styling (font size and color) of headings is controlled by the style sheet of the theme. Most themes have styles set for <h1>, <h2>, and <h3> tags. If the theme you are using does not have styling of <h#> tags up to the level you will be using then you must edit your style sheet to include them. Else appearances could get unruly.
Use Bold, Italic and Underlined Text
Highlighting key points using bold text, italics or underlining creates emphasis. It will make text stand out grabbing the attention of eye balls scanning the page. But use it sparingly else the page becomes a mash of cluttered text styles where it no one thing stands out and actually makes the text harder to read.
It is believed that Google may also recognize the tags used to produce bold, italic and underlined text and give a little more weight to keywords that may occur there. Where possible, try to use a keyword or two in lines you choose to emphasize.
Use Bullet or Number Lists
Bulleted lists are a great way to display compact yet informative text.
Why use Bullets?
- They attract the eye when scanning
- They are easy to read
- They outline key points concisely
- People like to read summaries
- They are easy to write
So, where you can, present your information in list form.
Use Hyperlinks Within your Text
Whenever you mention something in your content for which you have another page that expands on that topic then you should link to it. Hyperlinked text stands out attracting the eyes of scanners (they are just looking for links to click on anyways). It also allows users to delve deeper into your website.
Link out to pages of other websites where you feel that content would be of interest to your sites visitors. This can improve your credibility as a reliable source for good information. But be careful not to link to anything that could tarnish your credibility.
On that note, here is a link to a great study by useit.com that confirms many of our thoughts on how to write for the web.