Writing copy for websites is different from writing print materials. Indeed, Internet users interact differently with websites than with printed documents.
When people search the internet for information, they may arrive at your website with little context. They want to quickly decide if the information is useful and what they are looking for.
Research by the Nielson Norman Group (NN/g) on how people read websites shows that most people scan copy when they click on a new webpage.
The research and consulting firm says, “People rarely read web pages word for word. Instead, they scan the page, selecting individual words and phrases. »
With printed materials, people tend to follow a more structured reading pattern. They read the introduction, move on to the main body of the text, then read the conclusion. This means that they often spend more time reading printed materials than copying from the web.
Best Practices for Writing Web Text
Whether you’re writing the copy for your new website or writing a news article or blog post, here are some best practices to consider:
Keep your copy brief
Write concisely and clearly to help your readers find information quickly. Use short sentences and structure the text into short paragraphs.
NHS Digital says people read information online quickly and scan the content of the page. “If users can’t find what they need quickly, they leave the page and look elsewhere. It’s in your interest to make sure users get what they’re looking for, so don’t write more than necessary.
Additionally, research shows that reading a computer screen can cause eyestrain, which slows people down. This is another reason to make web copy short.
Write easy-to-understand copy
To ensure that readers can find information quickly, you need to make sure your content is easily understandable. Think about what you want to say and say it as simply as possible.
Use plain English as it will rank higher in search engine results and make your website easier to find. Also, use an informal, conversational tone and language. Using words like “you”, “your”, “our”, and “we” will make it sound like you are talking to your audience and having a conversation.
It’s important to use words and phrases in your web copy that people search for in search engines. This will help them find your website more easily.
Keywords should be used in the title, summary, introduction and subtitles of each web page.
Use scannable text
NN/g advises using scannable text when writing web copy, including subheadings, bulleted lists, and sticking to one idea in each paragraph. It helps people find information more easily.
Use the inverted pyramid structure
According to the University of Exeter, studies show that web users spend more time looking at the top left of a web page and skimming through the first and second paragraphs. To engage people, you need to use the inverted pyramid: put the most important information first, then general information further down the page.
The university says, “You have about two seconds to ‘hook’ your reader – so the first words on your page and the structure of your copy are extremely important. Structure your copy to place the most important information at the top and the least essential at the bottom. This means that if someone only reads half of your page, they will still leave after consuming your key messages. »
Include web links
To keep your copy short, add web links to other pages on your website or external sources. This will allow readers to decide what level of detail they want. If they want more context, they can choose to click on the links.
Web links also allow you to include calls to action, such as signing up for your charity’s newsletter or downloading a fact sheet.
Make your web copy accessible
An accessible website is one that can be used by as many people as possible. This includes people with visual impairments and those with cognitive or learning disabilities.
Charity communications teams can help create an accessible website using:
Perform user research
Before you start writing, you should do research to find out what your key audiences want and need from your site. This will help you decide what information to include on your website.
NHS Digital says: “Content should help users do their job. This means identifying a user need for every piece of content we produce, rather than just publishing what we think users want.
You can search for users by:
- Consultation of data on Google Analytics
- Get feedback from people who use your existing website (e.g. volunteers, supporters, and beneficiaries)
- Review previous inquiries your charity has received, whether by email or a help desk