- It is ideal to have a consistent tone of voice across all copy on a website. This creates continuity and prevents the content and organisation appearing fragmented. If there are a number of people with editorial rights to the site, you may like to have one or two central people to run copy through/sign it off to help maintain the organisation’s voice.
- Use consistent formatting when laying out text (i.e. using headings, subheadings, making text bold etc) it is best to have a standardised way of doing this.
Meet the user need
- Always keep your audience in mind when creating copy for your website. Try to think about what they would want to get from the site and what tone of voice is suitable for them. Your writing will be most effective if you understand who you’re writing for.
- To understand your audience you should know:
– How they behave, what they’re interested in or worried about – so your writing will catch their attention and answer their questions
– Their vocabulary – so that you can use the same terms and phrases they’ll use to search for content
- When you have more than one audience, make your writing as easy to read as possible so it’s accessible to everyone.
- Don’t publish everything you can online. Publish only what someone needs to know so they can complete their task. Nothing more.
- People don’t usually read text unless they want information. When you write for the web, start with the same question every time: what does the user want to know?
- Meeting that need means being:
clear and to the point
- Avoid ‘walls’ of text – break up your content into easily- digestible chunks, and use headings to create sections that humans can easily understand and take in. This is also great for search engine optimization (SEO) because headings (titles) and subheadings (summary) have greater importance than normal paragraph text for search engines. Try to think about what they contain and make the content meaningful and refer to key points of the paragraph text.
- Good online content is easy to read and understand.
- This helps people find what they need quickly and absorb it effortlessly.
Headings and titles
- Keep in mind 65 characters or less (including spaces). This is because search engines truncate (cut off) titles in Google search results over that number. Words or parts of words will be cut off.
- Make sure your title is unique. It’s not helpful for people if search results show a list of pages with the exact same title.
- Titles should be clear and descriptive. The title should provide full context so that people can easily see if they’ve found what they’re looking for
- Front-load your titles. The most important information and the words the user is mostly likely to have searched should be at the beginning of the search result.
How people read content on the web
- Users read very differently online than on paper. They don’t necessarily read top to bottom or even from word to word.
- Instead, users only read about 20 to 28% of a web page. Where users just want to complete their task as quickly as possible, they skim even more out of impatience.
- Remember that the pressure on the brain to understand increases for every 100 words you put on a page
- Web-user eye-tracking studies show that people tend to ‘read’ a webpage in an‘F’ shape pattern. They look across the top, then down the side, reading further across when they find what they need.
- What this means is: put the the most important information first. For example, say ‘Canteen menu’, not ‘What’s on the menu at the canteen today?’
- Avoid the urge to always state the name of your organisation as the first word(s). This helps people identify the most important information to them as they scan quickly through the page and is good for SEO.
- Following these guidelines will help head off the F shape reading pattern.
Writing for specialists
Research shows that higher literacy people prefer plain English because it allows them to understand the information as quickly as possible.
For example, research into use of specialist legal language in legal documents found:
80% of people preferred sentences written in clear English – and the more complex the issue, the greater that preference (eg, 97% preferred ‘among other things’ over the Latin ‘inter alia’) the more educated the person and the more specialist their knowledge, the greater their preference for plain English
People understand complex specialist language, but don’t want to read it if there’s an alternative. This is because people with the highest literacy levels and the greatest expertise tend to have the most to read. They don’t have time to pore through reams of dry, complicated prose.
Where you need to use technical terms, you can. They’re not jargon. You just need to explain what they mean the first time you use them.