The fundamental difference between writing for the web and writing for anything else is this: Readers don’t READ web content. They SCAN it.
Users are not visiting your page to collect all available information as they browse around. They want to find what they’re looking for as quickly as possible and move on.
That said, always remember that with web writing, LESS is truly MORE.
When writing for the web (or writing for anything, really), you have to write to your audience.
If you’re writing to prospective students (and 99% of you are), make sure your content has everything to do with what they need to know.
Prospective Students DON’T want to know:
Prospective Students WANT to know:
Who is your audience?
In addition to prospective students, your primary audience, you should also consider:
All content should be viewed through the lens of its use to your audience.*
* Content required by accreditation or other organizations can be linked, but doesn’t have to be featured.
Because web users are not reading your content as much as scanning it, you’ll want to keep your sentences and paragraphs short and to the point. Don’t overload your page with content.
What to avoid:
What to embrace:
A great photo can instantly improve any page on your website. Because users have a limited attention span, a compelling photo, paired with a poignant headline, can really draw them in.
You can use thumbnail images to highlight blocks of text as well, helping guide a user down the page. In either case, you’re making it easier to find what they’re looking for.
That said, avoid blinking, animated gifs and the like. Such images can be more distracting than helpful, and more importantly, they make your website look out of date.
You can find great header images at http://wordpress.georgiasouthern.edu/header-images/, or check out the extensive gallery of photos at GeorgiaSouthern.edu/photos or GeorgiaSouthern.edu/flickr.
There is nothing more frustrating to a user than headlines, paragraphs and graphics that make little or no sense to them.
Always strive to speak plain, simple English in the active voice when writing for the web. Catch phrases, cliches and jargon are obstacles to understanding.
Journalists, as a rule, assume an eighth grade reading level when writing articles. This is a great rule to follow if you desire to be understood.
What NOT to do (from another school):
Our office staff maintains records for all students who have been admitted to the college. We are committed to providing students, faculty and other employees with customer-oriented administrative support for registration, maintenance of student records and academic history, graduation, transcripts, academic standing and other related areas. Students are encouraged to contact the Office of the Registrar with any questions they may have regarding their records.
Let’s try that again:
The Office of the Registrar is responsible for maintaining student records at the college.
We provide students with the following types of records:
Click here to request your transcripts or other records
Contact us if you have further questions. We look forward to helping you!
(Insert contact information here!)
There is no better way to alienate users than letting your content stagnate.
This doesn’t mean that you have to add new pages and articles every day, but it does mean that you should be consistently “freshening up” the content that is there.
A website maintenance checklist: