Writing for digital media is a world apart from writing for traditional media such as print. Many writers from the old guard who cut their teeth writing for sales brochures and magazines now find themselves feeling out of place and disillusioned in this Brave New Digital World.
I find myself thinking of a Latin phrase I once read in high school that has always stuck with me: omni mutantur nos et mutamur in illis. All things change and we with them.
This reality is often a bitter pill to swallow, especially when it comes to adapting the craft that you’ve been practicing for many years.
But fear not. In this article, I’ll be sharing with you some of my secrets for writing great web copy.
But first, there are some things you need to know about the digital audience:
- They are starved for time;
- They visit websites with a specific goal in mind;
- If they don’t find what they’re looking for almost immediately, they’ll leave your site;
- They are impatient;
- Their reading behavior differs from that of a traditional audience.
With those points in mind, let’s take a look at how you can write better copy for websites.
Avoid long-winded paragraphs and sentences
Fact: online readers have a short attention span and it’s very easy for them to lose interest. They find huge blocks of text tedious and they definitely don’t want to scroll in order to get to the crux of the page.
Try to keep paragraphs and sentences as short as possible and restrict each paragraph to one or two main ideas. The generally-accepted rule is four to five sentences of no more than 20 words per sentence.
Make use of bullet points
Bullet points are a great way to break up ideas, and they are generally better digested by online audiences. Especially if you intend on listing multiple items, a bulleted list is definitely the way to go and has been shown to be favored in online environments.
Bold keywords and phrases
Online readers tend to scan web pages for relevant information (as do search engine crawlers), and their eye will be naturally drawn to words and phrases that stand out. Bolding your key copy points is one of the simplest and yet most effective ways of drawing your readers’ attention to important information on the page.
Include important information above the fold
The “fold” is the location on a web page at which a reader is required to scroll in order to read the rest of the page. If a visitor to your site has to scroll to find the information they are looking for, chances are they’ll just lose interest and navigate away from your site, which is precisely what you don’t want.
Write in an F-formation
What the…F? That’s right, heat maps that track reader eye movement have found that online users’ eyes roughly follow the shape of an upper case F when reading web copy. Keep this in mind with regards to placing your key words and phrases.
Ensure easy readability
Online copy needs to be a lot more concise and easier to read than traditional copy. As I’ve mentioned before, readers in online environments want to be able to quickly scan the page to find what they’re looking for. The Flesch-Kincaid reading scale analyzes English text to determine its readability and is included in Yoast’s Free Content Analysis Tool.
If you don’t know Yoast, I strongly suggest checking it out as it provides an excellent indication – and gratis feedback – regarding the suitability of your content for online syndication.
Always write in the active voice
Your main reason for wanting people to visit your website in the first place is to get them to do something, to take some action. This could be to make a purchase, sign up for a newsletter or fill out a contact form.
I therefore encourage writers to always write in the active instead of the passive voice.
Check out the two example sentences below and then decide for yourself which one is the most compelling:
My ebook can be downloaded at the following link.
Download my ebook at the following link.
It’s a no-brainer, right?