Rob Ashton explains why it’s vital that your web writing gets straight to the point.
Ever seen the TV game show Supermarket Sweep? The premise is pretty simple. After answering a series of questions, the contestants are instructed to find certain groceries in the supermarket. Not surprisingly, no-one methodically paces through the aisles. With the clock ticking, they race around frantically searching for visual clues that point to their prized items.
Browsing the internet is much the same. Studies have shown that we adopt the same ‘search and seize’ approach when looking for information online. In fact, only one in six people actually read websites sentence by sentence. Instead, most people scan the text for keywords, bullet points and subheadings.
Some studies have even shown that people read only the first two words of headlines before losing interest. And it’s generally a given that you only have a maximum of 10 seconds to impress your readers before they click to another page or site.
The key is to make your writing as direct as possible. As any Twitter fan will know, if you can’t say it in 140 characters or less, it simply isn’t worth saying. Apply that principle to all your web-based writing and you’ll be onto a winner. That’s not to say that you can’t elaborate on points, make explanations and create coherent arguments. It’s just that long rambling sentences are best left to novelists or poets. When it comes to the web, short and sweet is best. Prune through your writing and cut out any meaningless words. And rearrange your sentences so that they’re as punchy as possible.
The tips below will help you to create a high-impact writing style
A clear focus
Know your audience. Ask yourself who you’re writing for and what information they want to read. Then focus on one main message per web page. If you’re not sure what your main message is, write down the headings who?, what?, where?, when? and why? Then brainstorm your ideas to help clarify your thoughts.
Create powerful sentences by speaking directly to the reader. Use words such as ‘you’, ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our’. And use the active voice as much as possible. For instance, ‘we formed the company in 1999’ is far more effective than ‘the company was formed in 1999.’
Ready, aim, fire!
Break up the information into digestible chunks and keep your paragraphs short. Use subheads and make sure that, when combined, they tell the story of your article. Bullet points are also a great tool to use when writing for the web.
Remember that bullet lists always need an introduction (like this one). They are good for:
- conveying key information
- breaking down complex lists
- summarising main points
- instructions (especially if numbered)
The advantage of using bullet points is that they:
- make lists clearer, as they are more visual
- use white space well
- grab attention
- help readers scan information
- reduce word count
Create a call to action
By their very nature, websites are interactive. A static site that doesn’t involve its readers is like an out-of-date concert poster. Keep inviting your readers to contact you or click other internal links for more information. Try to anticipate your readers’ needs and then give them what they want. You can’t stop them jumping around searching for keywords. But if you give them something of value, you can help them to stick with your website for longer.
Remember, be bold with what you’re offering and don’t be afraid to shout out your content. Give your readers the satisfaction of finding the prized information instantly. The secret is to rig the game so that they win – every time.
You can get a free copy of The Write Stuff to help you with the writing process. This 60-page guide contains the very essence of good writing. And Emphasis has agreed to send a copy free of charge to the first 100 Corporate Eye readers to contact them.
Visit www.writing-skills.com/contact-us/ to get your copy.
Rob Ashton is chief executive of Emphasis, the specialist business-writing trainers.
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