Why writing for the web is different
Writing well for the web can be tricky. Readers scan web content, reading only 20-28% of content on a page. You have no control over the circumstances under which your site visitors will engage with your content. And, of course, your site will compete with many others to reach good Google search rankings.
A site can be beautifully designed, and yet devoid of useful content. It can be populated with relevant information, but written too densely to be readable on the web. It can be built with modern digital amenities, but be so overstuffed that it’s impossible for a reader to find what they need.
Without prioritization, most websites turn into overstuffed file cabinets. Without the appropriate tone, well-intended writing can poorly represent your unit and mislead site visitors. Without a sense of audience, content that’s written for “everyone” actually resonates with no one. Without following readability guidelines, content will lose its audience and plummet in Google searches.
The good news is that you’re not on your own. You have strategy and best practices to guide you.
Ready to start creating new content?
When it comes to writing for a website, a few moments of planning make a huge difference.
Before you start writing, ask yourself:
- What audience am I trying to reach?
- What tone will make this information most likely to resonate with that audience?
- What is the most important information I must convey?
- What questions might a site visitor have that my writing will answer?
- Is there information about this topic available on our site already?
- What action do I hope the site visitor will take next?
Just thinking through the questions above will get you in the right mindset to create an effective piece of content, one that reaches your intended reader and furthers the messaging and goals of your FAA unit.
Guidelines for writing great content
Writing for the web is different from other kinds of writing, because the way readers consume it is inherently different. A site visitor’s time and attention span is briefly granted and never guaranteed.
It’s essential to meet your readers where they are, with thoughtful content tailored to their needs.
On the web, site visitors scan web content and begin reading when they see words that match their interest. Walls of text are barriers to understanding.
- Write no more than 50% of the text you would have used in a hard copy.
- Keep paragraphs around 1-5 sentences.
- Use white space and bulleted lists to your advantage.
Using clear language allows more readers to understand and remember your message.
- Use key words thoughtfully in the first sentence of each paragraph.
- Test the readability of your content (Hemingway is a great resource) and find ways you can simplify your sentences without losing meaning. Grade 8 readability is the gold standard for accessibility.
- Use headings. Headings communicate the organization of the content on the page. Assistive technologies use them to provide in-page navigation.
- Think of web content in terms of bite (a headline or link, e.g. the name of a program), snack (a brief description/summary, e.g. a sentence about the program benefits), and meal (the full story or complete details, e.g. the program curriculum and outcomes).
- Most users will be content with the bite or snack, but don’t need the full meal. Present only the bite or snack when you can, and link to the meal.