Pen and keyboard

Writing for an Online Audience

Writing content for websites, blogs, social media, etc. is very different than your traditional print writing. Often times I see people “dump” print content onto their website without thinking about whether it is readable or not by an online audience. They don’t take the time to repurpose their text for the Web, and in doing so they are losing their audience in a “wall of text” that is off-putting. This is sure to increase your bounce rate for that page.

The fact is that people read differently online than they do when reading a print document. Website usability expert Dr. Jacob Nielsen conducted a study that found that people read 25% slower online compared with reading a paper document. This means they are not able to understandably take in the same amount of textual content and Nielsen recommends reducing print content by 50% before putting it online.

Let’s review how you can repurpose written content in order to achieve this goal:

  • Be concise and eliminate ALL unnecessary words.
  • Put the most important information first, followed by the details, instead of leading up to the main point which one would do in a traditional print format.
  • Make content skimmable: use informative, bold face headings and subheadings; use typography to introduce new or important material.
  • Separate content into small text chunks. Use lots of white space for easy scanning. In general, write no more than 5-7 lines per paragraph. Use lists and bullets, they are easy to scan.
  • Present each topic separately. Keep the information on each page to three (or fewer) levels.
  • Organize content around your website visitors’ tasks, not your organization. Highlight action items (step 1, step 2, etc.).
  • Use simple, descriptive section headings; short paragraphs; and ordinary, familiar words.
  • Don’t assume your readers already know the subject or have read related pages. Each page should stand on its own.
  • Write for your reader. Don't write for the experts, the lawyers, or your management, unless they are your intended audience.
  • Use the same words your readers use when they search for your info on the web. Avoid acronyms and jargon.
  • Use conversational pronouns (you, us, our, we) and contractions. Write as if you were talking to a colleague or friend.
  • Use active voice with strong verbs.
  • NEVER use "click here" — link language should describe what your reader will get if they click that link. Include keywords to help search engines.
  • Test web pages with website visitors so you can be sure real people can understand what you write.

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