How to Write a Web Page vs. Writing for Print

writing for the web

Image via Wikipedia

Writing for the web poses some unique challenges compared to writing on paper.

It’s harder to read on a computer (even with retina screens) and people tire more easily.

Plus, there are more distractions. Unlike printed pages, web sites have ads that may move or blink. There are social media buttons, and of course, pinging email notifications.

All of this makes it a lot harder to keep someone’s attention on your article or post.

Here are some ways to overcome all of that.

Write in small chunks

A big block of text is OK on paper, but not on a screen.  The resolution on a printed page is much clearer than onscreen – and reading large blobs of text online can quickly become tiring.

Break up your paragraphs into small bits, three or four lines at most.  Then, add a paragraph break. I know, Strunk and White wouldn’t approve (but they never saw the web).

Use sub-headings

Add sub-headings to break up the text even more.  Many people skim, so a heading helps them stop and find exactly the information they’re looking for.  If  you catch their attention, they may go back and read more carefully.

Write with bullet points

Short bullet points also make skimmers stop and read more carefully.  If it’s a sales page, you want action words right at the front of those bullets.  If it’s tech specs or design specs, they’re much easier to digest than if you wrote them out in long sentences.

Use colors

Colors are free on the web.  Contrasting colors for headlines, or links, or buy buttons grab more attention.  Don’t go crazy though – you don’t want it to look like you’ve dumped a paint store on your page.  Don’t use too much of one color either (then it’s too bland).

Above all, keep editing and testing (unlike paper, it’s easy to change  your mind!)

Make the type larger

Even with ever-sharper screens, reading text on the web can still be tiring.  And, for older people (or those with poor eyesight) it’s difficult to read even a small section of text.  Increase the type size on your posts (or allow a zoom in/out feature). Unlike text on paper. the font size on the web is adjustable!

Have You Made This Common Web Writing Mistake?

writing web copyHave you done this?  It’s a common web writing mistake, and something that many companies, both large and small, often get wrong.

It’s a mistake that’s easy to make, but it can be a disaster.  Doing it can drive readers away from your site, reduce sales, and lower the time visitors spend looking at your site.

Luckily, it’s something that is fairly easy to fix, once you realize you’re doing it.

The gobbledygook trap

Can your readers understand your site? Do they find what they need easily? Or does it need a translator?

I don’t mean Google translate, or even copy that’s in two languages, such as English and Spanish.  I mean translation from “geek” to English, or “designer” to English, or even “web developer” to English.

Can your customers understand your web site?

Here’s some sample copy from Microsoft’s web site (for Word, under the heading “Work Together More Successfully”)

If you work for a company running SharePoint Foundation 2010 this functionality can be used within the firewall. With Microsoft Lync and Office Communicator now integrated throughout several Office 2010 programs, you can view presence information that shows the availability of other authors and initiate instant messaging or voice calls directly from Word.

That paragraph is written in English. I haven’t the foggiest idea what the heck it means.  And I speak conversational geek.  It may make sense to the head of IT, but surely there are other people who use Word and would like to be able to collaborate with their colleagues and clients.

Simple, clear copy

On the other hand, here’s a sample from Apple’s site for Pages  (under “Advanced Writing Tools”):

When it’s time for comments and feedback, change tracking makes collaboration with anyone easier, clearer, and more concise. And it’s always easy to find your place. Next to your document, you see thumbnails of all your pages and sections, including changes that have been made. Quickly copy or delete a section. Or drag and drop to move sections around. Scroll through thumbnails to preview your document or enlarge them for a better view.

That’s English.  I can understand that.  No translation or IT degree needed.

How does your site measure up?

Is it closer to Microsoft? Or more like Apple? Does it talk a lot about pixels and HTML5? Is there lots of discussion about rendering or APIs?

More importantly, will your intended (or current) clients and prospects be able to understand it?  It’s OK to use a bit of jargon if you’re certain your audience knows exactly what you mean.  Otherwise, take it out.

The more friction there is, the more likely readers will leave, bounce, or click somewhere else.

Go over your copy, or get a professional to go over it for you.  See what a difference clear language makes.

Image via Wikipedia.

Can You Find the Mistakes in This Web Copy?

wrong way

Image thanks to geralt

Yesterday, I posted some web copy and asked what was wrong with it. The company is pure fiction, but the copy is adapted from an actual web site.

I have changed the names and altered the details of the site to avoid embarrassment, but the website copywriting mistakes are real.

Find the web copywriting mistakes

Here it is again.

A badly designed web site can have a negative impact on your site’s effectiveness and the money you earn from it.

After the initial consultation phase of your project, Wow Wow Web Design will create your web site using professional design tools. There are people who will offer to produce graphics for you at highly discounted rates. However, the quality of their design may be poor.

Whether you need a big web site or a small one, we can provide all your design needs.

No work process

There’s a general statement about an initial consultation, but no indication what happens after that. Talking about your work process is good, but spell it all out. Take people through what you’ll do and when. Let them know how you charge (all at once, in stages), what the process is like and how many designs a client will receive,

No differentiation

Why choose Wow Wow over any other company?

They don’t seem to specialize in any particular industry, or type of work.  Are they wizards of Blogger? Or only do WordPress?  What if you need ecommerce tools? Will they tell you if they’re not a good fit? How transparent are they about their work process?

How will you know if they are a good fit for your project? Professional design tools sounds good, but which ones?  If a client needs changes or updates further on, how will those be handled?

Do they offer tools that let you easily make small updates yourself? A project dashboard?

They’re not remarkable in any way.

No trust/value

They point out that cheaper alternatives may lead to poor results, but give no proof that their services are better. There’s nothing there about the designers themselves either. What is their background?  How long have they been doing this? What do their clients say about them?

No tribe

What is their market? What kind of fish are they trying to catch?  Do they specialize in large companies? Or would they rather work with smaller businesses?  Plumbing suppliers? Artists? It’s impossible to tell.

Who is their perfect client? They don’t seem to have one.  It looks like they’re trying to sell to everyone. Which means they’re selling to nobody.

Yes, that’s a lot to ask for from a few paragraphs, but the clearer you are about your value, your specialty, your point of difference, and your preferred clients, the better your results will be.

Seven Deadly Web Copywriting Mistakes

sevenWhat are the seven deadliest web copywriting mistakes? These nasty little errors can sink your web project almost before it even gets started.

Luckily, if you know what they are in advance, you will be able to avoid them!

1. Creating the design before the copy

The images are there to enhance the words (not the other way around). Writing can be edited to fit. removing design elements to fit the text will mess up the entire design. Write the copy first, then you’ll be able to use design to highlight your testimonials or your great guarantee.

2. Do-it-yourself copywriting

Thinking that you can write the copy yourself. Copywriting is a specific skill. There are books and blogs you can read (email me if you’d like some recommendations), but you have to convince people to do something and hand you their hard-earned money. Besides, is this the best use of your time? Read this before you hire someone.

3. Burying the lede

In the newspaper business, the lede is the sentence that sums up the story – and draws you in. In copywriting it’s the sentence that should tell readers why they should read the second sentence, and the third. Start with a bang – so readers will keep going. Try moving the paragraphs around. Often your best sentence is buried in the second or third paragraph.

4. Not stating the problem

If you want people to trust you and buy from you, you’ve got to establish trust and empathy. Point out a problem, a concern, or a desire.

5. Talking about yourself too much

Saying “me”, “my” and “our” will drive people away. They don’t want to hear about your background or your MFA, they want to know how your knowledge and skills will help solve their problems.  Take the one-minute marketing test to find out how your site copy stacks up.

6. No solution

Years of experience or number of employees isn’t a solution. Instead, explain how your product or service solves their problem. Tell them what they’ll get, how it works, why it works. Explain how other people have benefited from it. Answer common questions (yes, this is why sales letters are long – to answer all the questions that people may have).

7. No call to action

Don’t forget to write a call to action. Make it absolutely clear what to do, and how to do it. The buttons should be big, easy to find, and clearly labeled. You don’t want people hunting around to find them.

Have you made any of these mistakes? Or, do you have another to add to the list?

Photo:  eurritimia