Posts tagged websites
How NOT to write for the web

Writing for your digital channels is different to writing for print. I think we all know that by now? We should do - the internet is bursting with advice on how to write well for web (yawn). So, to mix things up a bit, here are a few tips on what NOT to do. Ignore them all completely and you’ll do just fine.

1 Forget your audience

Writing in your audience’s language will just bring you down to their level and encourage them to engage with your content. It’s much better to pretend they don’t exist at all and write at length about whatever you feel like talking about on a given day. Remember, it’s YOUR website. So who cares if other people find what you have to say interesting.

2 Long sentences rule

Endless sentences of elongated words are perfect for demonstrating to everyone what remarkable intelligence you have and thus make worthwhile all those years ensconced in a darkened room imbibing the delicious intricacies of the English tongue. They may take a bit of unpicking but everyone has a brain and time on their hands, right? The longer the message the more weight it will carry. And boring people is a great way to lull them into a semi-conscious state through which to inspire them to take action.

3 Avoid headings and subheadings

Let’s face it, your writing is so impressive everyone who stumbles across it will be hooked and read every. last. word. So there’s no need to help them navigate your great work. Just present your content as a single continuous block of rolling text and they’ll figure it out eventually. (Bless them.)

4 Forget accessibility

Everyone who matters can read and write just like you, so ignore anyone who needs more support. In the UK, only 7 million people have dyslexia, so making your writing accessible is a complete waste of time.

5 Embrace jargon

Ah, jargon! It makes you feel smart doesn’t it. Part of a small, elite club that gets it. The handful of readers who understand it will have a little chuckle to themselves about how smart they are too. It’s a really great way of making your writing totally impenetrable to the unwashed general public. And let's face it, who wants to interact with them!

So there you have it. 5 fool’s gold nuggets of really bad advice to avoid at all costs. Now go and find one of those useful writing for web guides instead.

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Originally published by Digital Drum.

5 essential questions for winning website content
5 essential questions for winning website content.png

Whoop! You’ve finally convinced the senior management team to approve the budget for a new website. Brilliant. The existing one is bad and you can’t wait to be rid of it. You have a vague sitemap in mind and a designer on board. So you’re all ready to start writing the content!

Or are you?

There are 5 essential questions you should be able to answer before you type a word (and they all have the word audience in them).

Who is my audience?

Convincing people to do something is hard. But when you know nothing about them, their preferences or motivations, it's impossible.

So do your homework.

If you’re lucky, you’ll have a dedicated audience insight team who can give you all the data you need. OK, you can wake up now. Most of us don't have that luxury.

So talk to the people who know your audience best. The supporter care or customer service team, the sales reps, the account managers. Better still, talk to the audience yourself at an event. Or pick up the phone and ask if they'd be happy to chat (old school I know).

You might have more than one audience. If so, gather as much information as you can on each of them. Be clear about how they differ from each other and what they have in common.

How does my audience talk?

Writing like you talk (as opposed to spouting jargon) is a good start. But people talk in all sorts of ways.

You need to be using the same language as your audience. So they can find your site in the first place and engage with it when they do.

Social media and online forums are a mine of information on how your audience talks. Find out where they hang out and lurk in the shadows with a virtual newspaper and coffee. Make a note of the kinds of words they use and the ones they don’t. What questions are they asking and in what way?

Pop a few key search terms into Google and see how many results they have. The ‘People also ask’ feature is useful too. And check out Google Trends to compare how popular various terms have been recently.

How does my audience use the site?

Unless you’re creating a new site from scratch, you should have analytics for your current site. If you are starting afresh, do you have data from your old site that might help?

What pages are most popular? Which ones keep people reading for the longest? And at what point in their visit are they leaving you?

Take care not to take analytics at face value. Just because people are leaving a page after a short amount of time, doesn’t mean it’s bad. They may have found the info they were after quickly. Which is a good thing!

What does my audience want to know?

Your website isn’t a place to tell the world everything you have to say about your organisation. There’s nothing more boring than someone talking about themselves at length. No one wants to read that stuff.

Your site is an opportunity to be helpful. To answer your audience’s questions, meet their needs, and solve their problems. (While getting them to take action or buy your product/service of course.)

User stories are a great way to figure this out.

Based on the info you’ve collected on each of your audiences, make a list of all the reasons they might visit your site.

For example:

As a teacher

I want to download the charity’s lesson plans

So that I can teach my pupils about the cause

Then make sure everything you write meets these specific needs. If it's not doing a job, scrap it.

(For more examples of user stories and other useful stuff, check out Sarah Richards’ excellent book Content Design. Buy, borrow or steal a copy if you don’t have it already. Your website - and your audience - will thank you.)

What’s the best way to give my audience what it wants?

Once you know what your audience wants, you need to decide the best way to give it to them. Alongside words, would a form, map, graphic or film help? If so, make sure what you write complements these other elements.

Remember, don't use graphics and films because everyone else is. Make sure everything is there for a reason. Be ruthless.

OK, answered all that? Now you’re ready to start writing. Good luck!

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