A Client’s Guide to Writing Web Content
In an ideal world, the content for your website should be written by a professional copy writer with intimate knowledge of what works on the web. I always suggest to my clients that they should push the boat out with their content, but in reality this is rarely a possibility on small websites with a tight budget. Individuals within the business commissioning the website are left with the task of writing website copy. They may have extensive knowledge of their business, but how do they channel this into web content that works?
Create Personas and Scenarios
Using personas ensures you are focusing on writing content for the humans who are coming to your site for specific information on a specific task. So how do you go about creating personas for your websites users?
- What groups make up your audience? For a healthcare website you may have highly knowledgeable people such as doctors visiting or people wanting quick information about a specific illness and students wanting more in-depth information about medicine.
- Where can I find solid information on my site’s audience without making assumptions? This could be from user feedback through email, phone or adding a questionnaire to your current website. Even better is to actually watch, listen and talk directly to users and by doing usability testing.
After gathering this information there may seem to be a lot to sift through, here are the most important parts that you need to extract into a persona:
- Experience and expertise
Adding a name and a picture adds personality to the persona. From then on you shouldn’t talk about “users” but refer to “Bill”, “Jane” or whoever.
If you have done your research and created your personas you will have a good idea of the reasons people are coming to your site. For each of these scenarios people will want to find certain things out – essentially they are looking for answers to the questions in their head. With a list of questions for each scenario you need to order then logically. What will users want to know first? Second? Etc.
From these questions you can begin to write. Remember, this isn’t about turning every page on your site into FAQ. You are using the questions as guidance on what your users want in order to create the best content.
Break up your content
Make sure you don’t outface your users with walls of words. People don’t tend to read web pages word for word; instead they skim over the content finding what relates to them. They will be put off if all they can see is paragraph after paragraph of text. So how do you go about knocking down the wall of words?
- Headings are one of the easiest ways to split up your text. At a glance your users can get an indication of the structure of your document and whether its what they’re looking for.
- Bulleted lists (like this one) make it easy to quickly extract information.
- Ordered lists are much easier to read than a block of text if there are steps that need to be done in a certain order.
- Tables can be used to split text up into a more readable form. If you have an if, then scenario or you find yourself repeating words over and over again you need to use a table!
- Images and diagrams that are relevant and offer added value should be included where possible.
- If you find yourself trying to fit masses of content on one page you may need to break it up into tabs or even separate pages.
Start with the key point, then expand
It’s very easy for a web user to navigate to a different page. You must get their interest straight away and give them an indication of what’s coming on the rest of the page. For many it is natural to write in a narrative style, in a chronological order. This isn’t the best strategy for the web. If users can’t find what they want right away, they will go elsewhere.
Keeping Search Engines in Mind
Search engines love content that is written for humans, and rightly so. You should never write content only for search engines, if they don’t catch it now they will very soon. Despite this you do need to at least think about search engines when writing your content. To start, you need a list of keywords you are targeting. It’s beyond the scope of this post to go into the details (but look out for on in the future!), however, either get someone to do it for you, or do it yourself.
Next, you want to try to target a single keyword, or a set of closely related keywords, on each page. Don’t try to cram vaguely related keywords into a single page. You can then naturally disperse your keyword and variations of it throughout the page, especially in titles and subtitles. They key here is natural!
With a better understanding of why web content is different from brochures and other offline sales material, your web content will become more engaging and useful to your users.