This is the Web Content Guide that I give to my clients. Presentation of your written content online is just as important as your site’s visual design. I’ve seen many beautiful websites that have gradually developed an unprofessional look because of sloppy writing and formatting.
Writing for the Web
Keep in mind that the Internet is a different medium to print, and that different rules and conventions apply.
Research shows us that most people scan web pages rather than reading them carefully. By following some simple steps, you can ensure that your pages are comprehensible.
- Use bullet points to deliver information
- Use clear headings and subheadings
- Headings should be descriptive and meaningful
- Write short sentences, in short paragraphs
- Be concise, clear, and use language that is simple and to the point (avoid jargon!)
- Highlight key words in your sentences. The reader who is scanning the information will get the gist of it from highlighted phrases.
Things to avoid
- Don’t use all capitals as they are sometimes difficult to read clearly on a screen. Also, when you’re online, all caps means shouting.
- Don’t underline words for emphasis, as the convention on the web is that an underline means a link. Use bold text for emphasis.
- Resist the temptation to play around with font formatting. Pages with lots of fonts in different colours and sizes do not look professional. Your fonts are determined by a document in your site’s code called a stylesheet, and the only formatting you should be doing is making certain words bold, applying headers and creating lists. If you want a font changed, ask your web designer to update the stylesheet.
- Apply headings rather than just bolding a piece of text. Use Heading 2, Heading 3, etc – the page title is usually Heading 1 so best to start with Heading 2 in the text itself. Check with your web designer if you are not sure about this.
- Text should always be left-aligned. Centred and justified body text is not a good idea online as it can be difficult to read. See webdevblog.co.uk for comprehensive details.
This should go without saying, but make sure everything is proofed and spell-checked. Research shows that bad spelling reduces user confidence and trust, which is particularly important if your website is intended to represent you professionally or you are using it to sell online.
Naming Pages and Posts
- Page names that appear in navigation menus should be kept short.
- Every website should have a ‘Home’ and a ‘Contact’ link as users expect to see these and may be confused if they are named differently.
- Every post should always have a unique title. Giving multiple posts the same name (such as ‘This Week’s News’) is confusing to both users and search engines. Instead of calling the posts ‘This Weeks’ News’, name them ‘This Week’s News: July 7th – 14th 2011’, etc
‘Website’, ’email’ and ‘online’ should all be written without a hyphen.
Using ‘Click Here’ for Links
Don’t! Links should provide context about what they’re linking to – it’s better for both human users and search engines. Instead of writing ‘click here to read our Annual Report’, write ‘our Annual Report is now available’.
When you use ‘click here’ the reader has to read the entire sentence or paragraph to find out what they’re clicking – but if you link the descriptive text, it’s immediately clear. Plus, not everyone will be clicking – some will be touching or tapping on various devices.
Microsoft Word Ruins Everything
If you are using a content management system such as WordPress, be careful when copying and pasting from Microsoft Word documents. It adds a load of junk code and carries across formatting which can be very difficult to remove unless you know HTML code. Use the ‘Paste from Word’ button, or copy and paste the text from Word into Notepad if your system does not have this feature.
This also applies to Google Docs, and many email systems; it’s safer to always use ‘Paste from Word’ when pasting text.
Search Engine Optimisation
Search engine optimisation is a complex and ever-changing field, but there are some best practice guidelines you can follow when preparing text for your website, to make sure that it performs well in search engines.
- Decide on the keyword or phrase that people are most likely to use to find your page. You can research keywords at keywordtool.io.
- Put the keyword in the following locations on your page:
- The title
- The first and last paragraphs
- In subheadings through the page
- Put the keyword in the meta description for the page. Meta descriptions explained.
There is no ‘ideal’ length for web content. Google favours longer articles of 1,000 – 1,500 words, but padding information out unnecessarily is not good practice. Your readers shouldn’t have to wade through endless paragraphs to find your point. When you’re producing short informational pages (as opposed to online articles), aim for 700 words, with a minimum of 300.
There are lots of resources available online to guide you in writing web content.
Any questions, comments or suggested additions, please comment below!