Decide what the page is for
Don't just write content: write for a purpose. You are trying to get your visitor to do something - what is it?
Make sure it looks simple
Most people will decide whether or not to read a page based on how hard it looks. If you have 3,000 words in one long paragraph, it looks too hard.
Keep it brief
Find a way to present your message in a short headline or statement, then give a link to find out more.
Establish a style
Work out what your "tone of voice" is, and be consistent.
Don't just copy your print materials
People don't use websites like they read a book. Each page should stand alone, with links to supporting materials (never repetition)
You have expert knowledge about your organisation.
But you need to translate that expertise into a language which works on the web.
You can't just assume that people will understand your content in the way you hope, or that web users will want to read content which is the same as your printed material.
You need to adjust your content to work for the web.
You also need to understand a little about how Google (and other search engines) find and index your website - read our blogs about SEO advice.
If Google can't find your site, nobody else can. And that means you will get no visitors and your website won't meet it's goals.
What is the page actually for?
Before you write any part of the page, be certain you know what the page is for.
Don't simply write a big block of text and assume that's all your site needs. Unless you know what the site is intended to achieve, it is unlikely to achieve anything.
You need to decide what you want your visitors to do. Obviously you want visitors to read content, but then what? Provide the visitor with information, but also make sure you work towards your organisational goals.
Here are some examples of goals:
- Make a donation.
- Buy a product.
- Sign a petition.
- Book a place at a forthcoming event.
- Subscribe to email newsletters.
- Contact you to make an enquiry.
- Volunteer to raise funds or help your organisation in some way.
- Join you on Facebook or other social networks.
It's unlikely you only have one goal. Even if the main thing you want is to raise funds through donations, you need to recognise that donors like to be kept informed - so a secondary goal might be to encourage people to subscribe to email newsletters, so that you can inform them more.
Work out what your organisation needs from visitors to the website. These are your goals. When you write text, write towards a specific objective.
Give visitors something to do, or they'll do nothing.
At the end of each page (or if appropriate, at the end of major passages of text), include a link to do something positive. Drive users towards your goals.
Think about what it looks like on the page
Many people write web content in Word, and then copy it into their website later. This is always a bad idea.
Word is a good software package for writing letters and documents, but it doesn't look like your website. You may write 3000 words and be extremely happy with the results on the page. But when you add that to your website you'll suddenly realise that 3000 words on a web page looks incredibly long.
If it looks too long, it is.
Remember that people consume information on the web in a very different way to reading books or magazines. If they find a page intimidating, ugly, too long, or boring, they will simply click to visit another site.
You can't afford to lose people's interest. So make sure the web page keeps things as brief as possible.
Keep paragraphs short - it's less daunting to read short passages than long ones. Typically a paragraph should be no more than 2 sentences long (unless the sentences are very short).
In tests, almost all people are put off by long paragraphs - it's daunting to even begin reading a long passage of text, and you will almost never see it in print (look at any newspaper, magazine or book).
Don't simply copy your print materials
If all you are doing is copying print material into a website, you won't be successful. The web is a unique medium, and information is consumed in a different way.
Web users read 20 or 30 words of your content, think they understand what it's about, and look for something to click. So there's no point in delivering lots of detail, and every incentive to make your message clear in 20 words or less!
The following advice should be applied to any content you add to your website.
Brevity gets results
It's been proven that each time you double the amount of text on a page you reduce the amount of people who will read it by 75%.
So if you start with 100 words and 100 people read it, increasing the content to 200 words will mean only 25 read it. 400 words will be read by about 6 people. And so on.
So it genuinely pays to keep your content brief.
If it looks too hard, it is too hard
If your page is packed to the gills with text, people will just walk away without reading. Break it up, and make the page look easier.
- Add well-chosen images, but not too many. Use a slideshow rather than placing lots of small images on the page.
- Bullet-point content where it makes sense to do so (like here, for example).
- Keep it short.
- Add links to "find out more" - people like to click on the web, so don't worry about asking them to click a link.
- Remember: you're much more interested in the details of your organisation than your visitors are. So put yourself in their shoes, and write content they're likely to read and respond to.
Be a journalist
Journalists never know how much space their article will get. The editor might cut 5000 words down to 500. So they're trained to pack vital information into the beginning, in case their article is edited down.
Just like a newspaper editor, web users will cut your information off whenever they want. They'll just click to go elsewhere.
So front-load your content with information. Start by stating the facts at a very high level, then expand on it more and more as the content goes on.
That way, you're more likely to get the key points across before the user moves on to something else.
If there is a lot of detailed information, put it on another page, just like a front-page story in a newspaper might end with "turn to page 8". Interested users will follow the link. Less interested users will still get the gist of the story from the brief overview. It works for everyone.
Establish a style
Your website is one of the most important communication methods you have. So you need to communicate well, and consistently.For example, this guide includes contributions from all of iChameleon's experts. But it's all written in the same direct and informal style, with short sentences, and lots of paragraph breaks.
If the next paragraph was written in a totally different style, you'd notice. And it would have a negative effect on your feelings about this guide. It might not make you stop reading, but it would make you less trusting of the information.
So you need to establish a writing style, and ensure everyone who contributes towards the site understands the principles of that style.
- Be consistent in your writing style, and make sure an editor is responsible for enforcing the style.
- Be consistent in how you use capitalisation and punctuation.
- Be consistent in how you use links and calls-to-action.
Doing these things will ensure better results.
It's never finished
You've finally finished writing content for your website. Haven't you?
No, you haven't.
The best way to keep your website alive is to update the content.
There are three reasons to update a site:
- Totally new content.
- Updates to existing content to add new facts.
- Updates to content to improve communication.
Point one and two tend to take care of themselves, but point 3 is rarely a priority. But it should be part of your job to continually review and question your content. If you wrote a perfectly good page last month, read it again now. You'll approach it with fresh eyes, and we can almost guarantee you'll spot things that could be improved.
Just because you think you've finished, doesn't mean things can't get better.
So now what?
You've done well: you've built a punchy and effective page, with good content and nice images. Your visitors have come to the page because you've added good headlines and made it search-engine friendly. Most visitors have read the page. Well done.
So what's going wrong?
If you don't offer your visitors something new to do (and a compelling reason to do it) they'll go elsewhere. Getting visitors to your site is the hardest part, so make the most of them. Add links and actions that they'll want to do, and that are appropriate to your message. Value your audience, and give them what they want.