Not many users can spot great web copy, but most can spot bad web copy, and it affects how they view a brand. But perhaps more worryingly, bad web copy prevents your user from understanding what you”re trying to tell them – obviously not an ideal outcome of a campaign.
When you”re getting a brief from a client, it”s hard to think past the regular elements of a project, like IA, design and build. But unless the project is entirely visual, there is going to be some copy involved. Getting a web content specialist to write it saves a lot of hassle down the track, and improves the final product. It”s a cost that should really be factored into any job.
In the absence of a professional to write content for you, here are some Golden Rules that will make a big difference to the final product:
Don’t let the client write the copy
Client-written copy is usually filled with ”marketese” – exaggerated promotional lingo that is an instant turn-off for the reader. Your reader wants to feel in control of the information they”re consuming, not like a message is being forced upon them.
Think of it this way – you wouldn’t let the client design or build the site; nor should they write its copy. Hire a professional or, at the very least, give the job to someone who isn”t so attached to the brand.
Know your reader
It sounds basic, but find out who is going to be reading the content. Is your reader a teenager? Then don”t try to be ”cool”, because you won”t be. Are you addressing web-savvy young professionals? Make sure you get your facts right, because if you don”t they”ll pick holes in your copy and leave.
These kinds of questions really are best answered by a web writer, who will know how to tailor the content to the audience. But it”s worth keeping this in mind at briefing stage.
Keep it short and simple
Web copy needs to be short. Period. Keep paragraphs to a few lines, and sentences as simple as possible.
This doesn’t mean dumbing things down, it means getting rid of the ”padding” – information that isn”t really driving a message. A general rule is ”If in doubt, cut it – clear writing is concise writing.”
Print content doesn’t work online
In general, you need to cut print content down by 50%, then by 50% again to make it suitable for web. You also need to re-order the information to make it scannable and web-readable (see ”Prioritise information” and ”Use keywords”).
Your client may think it”s a fabulous idea to transfer print material to their site. Gently point out to them that doing so is a waste of time and money, because nobody will read it.
Use the ”inverted pyramid” system of ordering information; place your key message or conclusion first, in a snappy, concise format. Below that, add the next most important fact, with slightly more information, and so on. By doing this, you”re ”chunking” text into tasty, convenient parcels for your reader to enjoy.
Make sure your copy contains keywords that will appeal to your reader, particularly in headings and the first sentences of paragraphs. Your reader wants to get the facts straight away.
We all know from our own habits that we don”t read a page, we scan the text for relevant keywords. Readers of web copy are ruthless; if they don”t see relevant keyword in the first few seconds, they bail.
Check for simple mistakes
Spelling, grammar and punctuation errors are easy to miss and easy for fresh eyes to spot. Ideally a proofreader would check through all content before it goes live. In the absence of a proofreader, a look-over from an objective person will wipe out a lot of potentially embarrassing errors.
For more information, come and chat to Lauren, or have a look at what web usability guru Jakob Nielsen has to say about how to write for the web.
Writing for online
Usability guidelines for copy online:
- Make sure that the copy is readable to a year 8 level
- Omit needless words and punctuation
- Avoid promotional copy that provides no meaningful content
Removing words, making easy to read and making sure content is relevant keeps users happy because:
- It reduces visual noise on the page
- Makes useful content and tools more prominent
- Reduces page length, helpful as users read 25% more slowly on screen
Chunk copy into sections and give sections titles – this is based on the principle of chunking, – combining many units of information into a limited number of units or chunks, so that the information is easier to process and understand.
Spell and grammar check for Australian English (e.g. colour rather than color)
If you have keyword campaigns (SEM) make sure those words are present in the copy in addition to the meta data (described below).
Give a title for the browser, this should be unique for each page and should have the following format, starting with the name of the company, followed by product, service or content title (e.g Snooze – About Us – What we do)
For each page of content give meta-data. Keywords and Description should be different on each page.
Consider related assets on each page, give complete file name and extension (e.g. photo-of-mary.jpg)
For database content
The content has been copy edited for consistency and grammar under the usability guidelines above
Fields are in the same format (e.g. all uppsercase – TYRES not Tyres and TYRES and TYres)
Fields always provided in the same order (e.g fields: Height, Width and Diameter in all documents, not Height, Diameter and Width in one and Width, Height and Diameter in another).