Good web writing calls for plain, action-oriented language.
By Beth Mirza
At a recent Association Media & Publishing Lunch & Learn session, "Web Writing Workshop: How Better Content Always Improves Your Site,” writing instructor Leslie O'Flahavan told attendees that some readers might be just as satisfied with a headline, or "bite” of content, as they would with an article, or "meal.”
Not everyone wants to read a full article, O'Flahavan told the packed room. Headlines and summaries or teasers can fulfill their information needs. That's why each piece of content—long or short—needs to be written in plain, action-oriented language, following these seven traits:
Doable content enables readers to take action. "This is web content's highest calling,” O'Flahavan said. When writing for your site, keep in mind: "What are my readers' top tasks? What are they trying to do on my site?” Then help them complete those actions.
Scannable content allows readers to understand the meaning of the piece without having to read each word. Lists break out top information. White space can show how ideas are grouped. Headings—written as messages rather than topics—help readers jump quickly to the information they need.
Readable content is written to communicate, not simply disseminate, information. Web articles are readable if the site visitor can read and understand the content while looking at the monitor; if he has to print it out, it might be too complex. And here's where O'Flahavan's "bite, meal, and snack” strategy comes into play: Bites are headings. Snacks are summaries. Meals are full articles. Whatever you are offering your readers, make sure it's complete, so that they walk away satisfied.
Findable content is easily found by search engines and humans alike, O'Flahavan said. Search engines pay particular attention to the following parts of a web page:
- The browser window title—what appears at the top of your browser window.
- The main heading on a page—the headline.
- Bolded subheadings—descriptive, not just "Key Findings.”
- Hypertext links—specific and name what you are linking to, O'Flahavan said. "No one Googles ‘click here.'”
- Keyword-rich content—250 words on a page are needed to register with the search engines. Load up these page attributes with action-oriented, descriptive keywords so that Google can find your page. Humans reading the page will appreciate them, too.
Clickable content ensures what people click is what they get. Choose meaningful words for links, as noted above. Use links to support and deepen the message of the page.
Personal content is like a conversation with the reader. Choose your voice and make it human and professional. Picture your reader as you write. "The web is a personal medium,” O'Flahavan said. "There's one head and one monitor.”
Deep content provides pathways to more information that increases the reader's understanding of a topic or his ability to accomplish a task. There are lots of parts, all networked together by links connecting related content. Web content is presented in shorter units, O'Flahavan said, but "overall, there's more of it.”
Beth Mirza is manager, online news content for the Society for Human Resource Management. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for covering this Lunch & Learn for our members who were unable to attend.