Writing content for your website is crucial if you want it to be successful; however it’s completely different to writing content for print. The style of writing needs to be suited to the web, and it also needs to reflect your brand language well too.
But, writing content doesn’t mean producing essays of text for your website – it needs to be carefully planned and placed, and working alongside your users’ behaviour. You must remember that people have a short attention span when it comes to reading websites, pages and content. But what are the other behaviour patterns? How do visitors read your website?
This is a long-established piece of research about how people quickly look at your website. If you imagine yourself looking at a web page, and then place a rough “F” over the content. This is how our eyes quickly scan content. As users, we tend to read horizontally across the upper portion of the website, before moving down the page and finding a second horizontal stretch usually over a shorter area than the first and then finally scanning further down on the left.
Layer Cake Pattern
This is another pattern visitors tend to do when looking at a website or webpage – essentially this happens when visitors just scan headings and subheadings, missing out on the actual content. It’s called layer cake because a heat map of this behaviour looks like horizontal lines.
Scanning Pages is More Preferable
At the end of the day, your website visitors are always going to scan your content first. I do it myself, quickly scan and scroll a page and if what I see looks like what I was after, I’ll read it properly. If not, I’ll just click back. So if there isn’t a title, or text in bold that grabs the eye, myself and many others are likely going to click back and look at another site.
Research shows that there are probably 3 reasons why we scan: we’re in a hurry (perhaps we need the answer fast); we’re looking for what’s personally relevant to us (and knowing that scanning will help us achieve this) and we’re very well trained for scanning content too.
Scanning content means that we will be scanning for bolded text, subheadings, bullet points, hyperlinks, the first few words of a paragraph or even just reading the conclusion. So, you have to make sure all of your webpages includes scannable content.
Most Won’t Read It All
Unfortunately the majority of your visitors won’t read all of your content. That’s not to say it isn’t quality content, but it could be too long for your visitors to finish, too bulky or not easily formatted to aid skimming and scanning – so they might miss the important message you want to get across.
According to Chartbeat, the typical online visitor will read just 60% of an average article. So this means that website content which is short, succinct and to the point is much better; while making sure that larger content is well-formatted to aid “scanning” will go a long way.
What can you do to make visitors read the content you want them too?
There’s a few things you can do on your webpage to make the important points stand out. One of my favourite tricks, and something I often do in print as well, is to highlight my keywords or phrases (usually by making them bold), either by changing the typeface or different colours.
You should plan your content with subheadings or subtitles that are relevant to the users – so that when they are scrolling, the title catches their eye. There’s little point trying to be too clever here, because you want them to stop scrolling. Think of headings or titles that are attention grabbing, and really clear to read in a quick scan.
Bullet points are also a great way to give quality or key information in a condensed format, and also break up your text from one block. Similarly, I highly recommend you try and condense your content into small paragraphs. There’s a lot of talk about how a high percentage of white space on your website works well in terms of its appearance and tidiness, so avoiding huge blocks of text will work well for this, to not overwhelm your readers.
There’s also a “readability” factor which helps with search engine optimisation – the more complicated words and sentences you use, the harder your page is to read. If you are writing for the web, there are many tools that can help you analyse the readability, and help make sure your point is coming across in a clear and easy to understand manner.
In essence, we scan websites and their pages – so you need to be really clear on what the purpose of that page or content is, and make sure it stands out to your visitors. Avoid long paragraphs, and use easy language (while maintaining your brand voice), and always keep in mind your keywords. Writing content for the web isn’t easy – this is why so many people charge for the service, but it’s the content that makes up the main portion of your site, and if it isn’t doing it job properly, you may be losing on customers. I LOVE writing my own content for our websites, but in recent months I’ve employed a proof-reader/editor to check it all over for me. There’s nothing wrong with that at all!