Writing for the Web – Tips from the Experts

Sharpen Your Web Content with these Expert Tips
by Alison Leuders at GreatGreenEditing.com
Last month I spent 2 days in a class called “Writing for the Web.” It’s put on by the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG). They are well-recognized experts on all aspects of the web experience – from accessibility to visual design to content.

I wanted their insights on how web writing – i.e. the content – fits in the overall scheme of effective website design. Here are a few key take-aways.

Reading on the web really IS different from reading print

NNG’s research and eye-tracking studies show that people who read online find it:

  • Harder
  • Slower
  • Less effective in terms of comprehending what they read

The NNG instructor used the phrase “information foraging” to describe how people read online. To attract and keep the hurried – and easily fatigued – web reader, web writing has to be shorter, simpler and clearer.

Written content matters most

It’s the words on the page that have the most impact on readers – not color, not format, not layout. Not blinking boxes or popups or videos. Words are the quickest, simplest way to communicate with readers. And they are by far the most effective element on a website for building trust and credibility.

Clarity beats cleverness

People are very task-oriented on the web. They want to conserve their mental energy. Anything that slows them down – a newly-coined term, an inside joke, a cultural reference – is more likely to make them click away. If your meaning is unclear, they won’t stay to figure it out.

People don’t mind scrolling

According to NNG’s research, clicking from page to page is more disruptive to people’s web experience than scrolling down a long page. Who knew?

Simpler writing helps everyone

A surprisingly large percentage of people in the US read at a lower level of literacy. They read “word-for-word” rather than scanning, and have more difficulty understanding what they read.

Simpler writing – meaning fewer words per sentence and fewer syllables per word – benefits everyone. Reading speed and comprehension increase enormously, even for high literacy readers. This makes simplifying your copy a no-brainer. The trick is knowing HOW to do it.

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