To boost your association
website's readership, try applying these simple rules.
By Mark Nichol
Writing for the Web is more about the presentation than the
content itself, but it does require a shift in thinking and some mechanical
changes to printed prose. Here are some tips:
Text. Site visitors rarely read introductory paragraphs on their
first visit. Why? Most people arrive at a site via a search engine, so they
often bypass the home page. Others, of course, follow a link to a home page, or
click on a Home link inside the site to see what else it has to offer, so an
introduction isn’t useless; however, make it short and sweet, answering the what and the why in as few words as possible. The same goes for introductory
text on interior pages.
2. Points of Entry.
Most people scan Web pages rather than read them—at least
initially. Of course, many do read entire articles and essays, but home pages
and other top-level pages should catch a visitor’s attention with scannable
text like linked or unlinked keywords, practical (not clever) display copy
(otherwise known as headings, subheads, and the like), and bullet lists.
Paragraphs. Brief paragraphs that contain just
one idea are ideal for online readers. (See?)
4. Key Facts First.
Employ the inverted-pyramid model of writing, in which the
most important information is featured first, followed by decreasingly
significant information. One advantage of this strategy is the same one
that made it integral in newspaperese: If content is too long, it’s easier just
to cut from the bottom rather than try to delete passages throughout. (You can
always repurpose the deleted content for another article or have visitors click
to a new page to finish reading.)
5. Links In and
Out. Provide links to related material on your website and on
other websites as well. Don’t be concerned that visitors won’t come back to
your site once they leave; if you routinely send them to good material, and you
have good material waiting when they return, they’ll return.
6. Saying It
Straight. Chant your new mantra: SWYM, MWYS.
(Say what you mean, mean what you say.) Objectivity equals authority; avoid
marketing lingo, promotional excess, hyperbole — whatever you want to call it.
If people trust you to be evenhanded in your writing style, they will trust
Also, be literal, not figurative: In a heading for a sports
story, for example, if you use metaphorical language like "curse” instead of
something more concrete like "losing streak,” you lose the opportunity for
7. 1st Words Count.
Many site visitors scan in a rough F pattern, keeping their eyes on your
page’s left-hand margin as they dart slightly along each line before dropping
to the beginning of the next. Make the first dozen or so characters in your
display type count. Avoid bland or coined terms, and start with keywords.
8. OK to be
Passive. Don’t go out of your way to avoid passive sentence
construction, at least in initial sentences. Why? "Mark Nichol recommends that
online writers embrace the passive voice so that key information appears
up-front in sentences” breaks the rule recommended in the previous paragraph.
Who cares about
Mark Nichol? Start with the point of the sentence: "Passive voice is recommended
by Mark Nichol to help online writers place key information up-front in
sentences.” Of course, you can also place important words at the head of an
active sentence: "Passive voice is useful for placing key information up-front
in online writing.” (And leave me out of it.)
Note, of course, that not every first sentence in a
paragraph or even a section needs to be headed by keywords, but don’t pass up
an opportunity to do so.
9. Importance of
Writing Well. The best way to attract visitors to
your website is to provide them with high-quality content. It may not get them
there, but it will keep them coming back.
10. Breaking Rules.
Disregard any and all of these rules as you see fit, but
know them and apply them often.
Reprinted with permission
from Daily Writing Tips.