Does Your Content Work Online?

Photo of a woman biting into a coconut. Photo by Lukas Beer.

Easy language. Short sentences or phrases. Visual breaks. Writing for the web is all about serving information in bite-size pieces. Today, I’ll break down how to make your content work best online.

Let’s get this out of the way: No one reads your website.

It may be disheartening to hear, but website visitors will likely not read the majority of your website’s content. To better make sure they find what they need from your website, it’s important to first understand how they do read information online:

Photo of a cyclist pedaling through countryside. Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Website visitors are in a hurry.

They want to find the answers they seek without having to read an entire page of content.

Instead of reading, they skim pages for clues.

They will stop and read a section only when they find clues that it will interest or apply to them from places that are easy to glean on the fly:

  • Headings
  • Subheadings
  • Bullets
  • Images with captions

Write your content so it makes sense without reading every word.

Knowing the majority of your visitors will skim down the page, maybe read a section or two, you can now make sure your content makes sense when read that way. Here’s how:

The most important information—or the summary—appears first.

The first paragraph of a webpage should tell a reader everything they need to know. Everything that follows fills in the more specific details that only interested readers will want.​

Use subheadings to summarize each section after the first.

Following the same pattern used on the first paragraph, each section should be summed up with a subheading. The sentences and bullets that follow provide more detailed information that support the subheading.​

Sentences and paragraphs are short. Use bullets.

Short sentences and paragraphs are more widely accessible than great walls of text. Bullets are even better for conveying broad ideas quickly.

Words are approachable and non-technical.

Your website is not the time to show off your cache of 25¢ words. Technical terms and industry jargon are either not included or should appear further down on the page.This keeps the important information casual and understandable to a wider audience, and allows interested readers to drill into more technical details.

Use online tools to make sure your content is easy to read.

Compel visitors to take action.

Having predefined actions you want your visitors to take is one way to determine if your site is thriving. Your content needs to support those actions by compelling your visitors to take them.

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Use action words.

Create a sense of urgency to take action by using active words. Stuck? Grab a thesaurus.

Photo of a stack of directional signs. Photo by Álvaro Montanha on Unsplash

Be descriptive in your link and button text.

Buttons and links should tell your visitors what will happen when they click on them. Generic terms like “click here” are not only not descriptive, they provide zero context for visitors who use screen readers to “view” your website.

Website ownership is easier when you’re in the know.

The next installment in this series will focus on keeping your site fit as it ages:

  1. Recognizing your site’s needs as it ages.
  2. The different types of updates and how to plan for each.
  3. Identifying the best person(s) to perform updates.
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