Writing websites: what you need to know
Websites are read on screens
Whether via a tablet, smartphone, laptop or desktop, websites are read on screens. This is important for writing websites because the way that we read on screens is different – screen reading is more tiring for the eyes than paper, and therefore we read websites 25% slower than print.
Perhaps due to the fact that it’s more difficult, we are also less likely to read the whole text, instead scanning the page and only reading around a fifth of the content. For these reasons, when writing websites, it is important to adapt your copy so that it can be read more efficiently on screen. There’s a number of ways you can do this:
- Chunk your content into sections with sub-headings to make it easier to scan.
- Write short, simple sentences in plain English.
- Use bullet points for lists rather than long paragraphs.
- Be concise – remove redundant words and phrases.
Website readers are more likely to be “action orientated”
In addition to reading in a different way, web readers are more often “action orientated” than readers of books, newspapers and magazines. Rather than browsing or reading for pleasure, they frequently have a specific task in mind. This purpose could be anything from finding a particular piece of information or to completing a purchase. As a result, web copy should be clear and get straight to the point, or you risk losing people who will go elsewhere in the hope of completing their task quicker.
Consider search engine optimisation
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is an important consideration when writing websites. Search engines are used by 93% of people to find the information they are looking for online, so ensuring your website copy is written to be found by search engines is crucial.
SEO is a complex field, however there are a number of basic requirements to keep in mind when writing web content:
- Write descriptive titles so that when people see the content in search engines, they will know what they are getting if they click on it.
- Content should use a semantic structure recognised by search engines. For example headings should use “H1” and “H2” tags and be used in order.
- Pages should have a search-engine-friendly title and description. That is, one that has the right number of characters to fit nicely on the search engine results page.
- Be aware of key search terms in your field, and research what predictive search terms you could use to snag the most browsers.
Websites are interactive
Another big difference between websites and print is that the web is interactive: sites are full of links to other pages, and this can prove difficult for people not used to writing websites. Many end up writing “click here” as all their link text, which provides a poor reading experience and confuses search engines who “read” the text as an indication of what the page is about. Instead, link text should be descriptive and ideally, flow easily with the rest of the content.