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Writing for the web: Five ways to instantly improve your content

When you’re writing for the web, how you write your copy can be as important as what you say. Here are five writing tips to make your web content more user-friendly and professional.

There are two important considerations when writing for the Internet.

The first consideration is your messaging. Are you saying the right things in the right places? Are you communicating messages that engage your customers and get them to take action? Does your content appeal to search engines?

The second consideration is how you write your web content. People read differently on a computer screen than they do in print. Are you using Internet writing techniques to make it easier for people to read your content?

In this article, I’m going to focus on how you write your copy.

If you’re writing for the Internet, here are five tips to instantly improve the readability of your website content.

#1: Lead with your most important information.

Start each web page with the most important information. Then, follow with your support statements.

You’ve got a few seconds to capture a reader’s attention. If people only read your first few sentences, you want them to walk away with what’s most important.

Plus, leading with your most important information — from the top of your page to the start of each paragraph — makes it easier for people to skim your content and find the information that interests them.

When writing papers, many of us were taught to provide support statements that build up to a conclusion. When writing for the Internet, you do the opposite.

#2: Shorten your paragraphs.

When you were in school, you may have been taught to write long, descriptive paragraphs with complex ideas.

Good news. You get to toss those rules out the window.

According to Jakob Nielsen, a leading website usability expert, people read up to 25% slower on a computer screen than they do in print!

Most people don’t read word for word when they’re online. They tend to scan for content and images that catch their attention.

With this in mind, keep your paragraphs short. Shorter paragraphs are easier to skim.

As a general rule, I like to limit my paragraphs to four to five lines in length. (And yes, we’re talking lines, not sentences.)

If you have a paragraph that is more than five lines long, split it into multiple paragraphs. This is one of the easiest ways to improve your web content!

#3: If you’re drafting your web content in Microsoft Word, adjust your margins to mirror the column width on your web pages.

Many people write the first drafts of their web content in Microsoft Word. If you do too, change the margins in your Word document to better visualize what your content will look like on your web page.

In Microsoft Word, you may have what looks like a short paragraph. When you change your margins, though, it may be too long. If your paragraph exceeds five lines in length, create multiple paragraphs.

Let’s say that you get about 12 to 15 words of copy per line on your web page. Adjust the margins in your Word document to reflect that column size.

Rather than having 1.25 inch margins on each side of your Word document, you may want to change to a left margin of 1.25 inches and a right margin of 2.75 inches.

4. Use sub-heads. A lot of them.

You’ve got busy website visitors with short attention spans. When they arrive on your website, they’re going to scan your page to see if your content catches their attention.

Sub-heads are a wonderful way to break up your content, so your page is easier to skim.

5. Break content into numbered or ordered lists.

I’m a big fan of lists. Lists allow you to:

  • Highlight important information.
  • Break up long sentences.
  • Make it easier for people to skim your content.

Lists break up the uniformity of content, particularly if you’ve got a lot of text.

Parting thoughts: Let go of the writing rules in your head!

In high school, I had an English teacher who spent half a semester teaching us how to write properly.

One day she announced, “All right. You know what you’re doing. Now I’m going to teach you how to break the rules.”

The same principle applies in writing for the Internet.

There are some things you need to get right, such as spelling and basic grammar. After all, you want to look professional and competent.

But when it comes to how you compose your content, let go of the rules you learned in grade school. In doing so, you’ll create effective web content that’s much easier for your website visitors to read.

Until next time!