Writing web copy

I have three seconds to convince you to read this article.  That’s the… Oh, you’ve gone.  I was going to say, that’s the average time someone spends on a website before deciding whether to stay or leave.

Your website is probably the biggest marketing tool you have.  Here are a few basic rules your website must follow to succeed.

1. Appearance doesn’t matter as much as usability.  Think of the Google website. Appearance matters, once your site is usable, because people judge your professionalism and reliability by the quality of the design.

So, look good but Don’t Be Different. People need to be able to find what they’re looking for and if your site doesn’t have the same layout as every other site, say your Content list isn’t along the top or down the left side, they get confused.

Other ways to make your site easy to ‘navigate’ are having a ‘previous page’ or ‘back’ button and being able to click back to the home page using a link on the logo.  And no pop ups. We all hate pop ups because they Visit my website thelewisexperience.co.uk  make us lose track; many of us block them.

2. Highlight important information with strong simple colours.  Black, white, red, blue, etc. Use space around important stuff to attract attention.

3. Speed is of the essence.  Web users are an impatient lot.  No watching paint dry or waiting for kettles to boil for them.  Unless the user has high speed broadband, clever graphics and big photos make a site slow to download. There’s no room for art for art’s sake, every image should mean something.

Users don’t like having to click more than three times to get to what they want.  Don’t have a Home Page that requires you to click to ‘enter’ the site and don’t have too many stages in the buying process.  If you have an e-commerce website, the ‘buy’ button must be prominent on every page including the home page- and the phone number as well.

Keep each page simple.  Most people give the page a quick scan. One clear topic per page, if possible, means the visitor doesn’t have to make choices about what to read.  Even the Home Page should emphasise no more than four main tasks- the things visitors are most likely to want to do.

4. Your site must be easy to read. Not everyone has perfect vision or the latest 20 inch widescreen monitor. Allow users to re-size the type to a bigger size. It must also be ‘liquid’ so that it will adjust on a low resolution old style screen, rather than cutting off the right-hand side.

Make sure the text contrasts with the background.  Your older (richer) visitors will really appreciate this. Google, Yahoo, Amazon, BBC all prefer a white background- and they should know.

5. Make your site interactive.  Give visitors the chance to comment or ask questions, or even to talk to each other.  A site which welcomes comments adds credibility to the company’s wares.

6. Don’t think anyone can write the words.  The web requires a special way of writing: information-carrying words, actionable phrases, keywords, lean prose.  Research shows that changing ordinary text to web-orientated text can double website usability.  For example, ‘The Hills Are Alive’ is a fine headline for a mailing or brochure but ‘The Sound Of Music’ is what works on a web page.  Unless you’re an expert, pay an editor to go over all your text and rewrite it for the web. On the other hand, if you do have writing skills, take a look at my 7 Tips For Writing Web Copy.

7. Research why people are visiting your website. They may want to know what’s on, prices, how to find you, what your show’s about, how to buy a ticket or simply ‘who are you?’.  The Home Page should let people know they’ve come to the right place and offer a few samples.  (‘Welcome to Anytown’s largest theatre where you can find out information about forthcoming shows, about the venue and buy tickets online’).

Test!  Observe half a dozen people using your site- where they get stuck, where they go wrong.  And employ the analysis tools that are often available from website software or servers or from Google Analytics to find out the pattern of visitors’ usage.  Use this information to improve your visitors’ experience.

For your homework, check out sites like useit.com and thesitewizard.com or Jakob Nielsen’s book Designing Web Usability.

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