Writing for the web
Users “Scan” Pages
Users spend ~ 4.4 seconds for every extra 100 words on a page, knowing this it is obvious that online writing requires a totally different approach as offline writing.
A dated article from Jakob Nielsen in 1997 explains that web users in general do not read but scan web pages. If one thing is more true that is that now (over 10 years later) a lot of websites still make the same mistake of having too much text without usable content. Not only do users scan web pages but news letters and forums share the same ill fate (if not worse).
How to Write?
Web pages have to exist out of scannable text…
- Highlighted keywords (different color, hypertext links, typeface or even font family variations)
- Meaningful sub-headings
- Bulleted lists (like the one you are reading now)
- One idea per paragraph (users will skip over any additional ideas if the first words in a paragraph are not catching)
- Half the word count (or less) than conventional writing
- The inverted pyramid style, starting with the conclusion
Inverted pyramid style:
2: Supportive article
Creditibility is another important aspect, because it is unclear where the information comes from you can increase your creditibilty with high quality graphics, good writing and most of all… relevant outbound links. Links to other sites often testify that the author is not afraid to show his sources.
Surfers hate promotional writing style with boastful subjective claims like: hottest ever. Your credibility suffers when users clearly see that the site exaggerates.
F for Fast!
Eye tracking studies also showed users scan the content for keywords of interest. This study shows the importance of following the guidelines for writing for the web! Some reminders:
- Users won’t read your text thoroughly. They only scan for what is important so use keywords and highlight them!
- The first two paragraphs must state the most important information. Use the inverted pyramid!
- Start subheads, paragraphs, and bullet points with information-carrying words The first two workds count, the rest is only to back up the first