Writing for the web is very different than writing for other types of media. The people who visit your website do not read your web pages the way they read books, magazines, newspapers, or brochures. You may want to say a lot on each page, but web users are in a hurry. They want information fast and they don’t want to have to work hard to find it. By keeping your web copy concise, scannable and objective, you’ll make the maximum possible impact on your readers.
Keep it Concise
Web users do not spend a lot of time reading a web page. They want to quickly find what they’re looking for, scan it briefly for keywords that correlate to what they need, and get out. Jakob Neilsen (website usability and readability expert) has conducted plenty of studies that bear this out. His research tells us that web pages should have half of the word count of conventional writing. On an average visit, Nielsen found that users read half of the information on pages with 111 words or less. That’s why it’s so important to keep your copy short and to the point so your critical message gets across before your reader leaves the page.
Keep it Scannable
Web users usually scan text rather than reading every word. They scan for keywords and look for the main idea early in the page. If they can’t find relevant information within a few seconds, they click off the page. Neilsen has conducted cutting-edge eye-tracking studies using technology that tracks where the eye goes when looking at a web page. His studies uncovered that web users typically read in an F-shaped pattern (two horizontal stripes followed by a vertical stripe) rather than reading every line from left to right like they would a book. His studies also found that users focus more on bulleted lists than heavy, paragraphical text. You can keep your text scannable by using bulleted lists, highlighting important keywords, and by getting right to the point early in the page.
Keep it Objective
Web users do not like pages that use a lot of “marketese” such as “our product is the hottest ever” or “our customer service will blow you away.” Overly exaggerated claims are a big turn off and vastly decrease your site’s usability. You can increase usability and readbility by using neutral rather than subjective, boastful, or exaggerated language. Stay away from inflated claims and marketing lingo and just stick to the facts. For example, instead of saying “our widget will completely change your life” state “our widget will cut your cleaning time by 25 percent.”
Nielsen has shown that using all three of these improvements together – concise, scannable, and objective writing – leads to a whopping 124 percent improvement in a website’s usability.