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Skim (don’t read) these tips for website copywriting

6/11/12

The chances are you won’t read the next sentence or two, especially if this a sentence becomes so long that it extends several lines to form a large text block (formerly called a paragraph), which will inevitably intimidate your eye due to the implied number of words and, therefore, the time commitment needed to read and understand them. So I suppose there’s really no reason to put anything pertinent in this spot. Nope, nothing to see here.

But a succinct sentence is more likely to get your attention.

And what if this article employs some well-tested tricks for the best website copywriting services, such as using bold text to declare the internet has made people lazy readers? You read those words, right? That’s because drawing a reader’s eye by calling attention to key words and phrases is a necessity on the web since people don’t read, but rather skim, website copywriting.

Why not eschew cumbersome syntax entirely by saying the same thing in fewer words? Case in point:

3 easy steps for getting your main points across on a webpage

  • Call attention to keywords by bolding or italicizing them.
  • Sprinkle in some subheads.
  • Use bulleted lists.

As far back as 1997, usability guru Jakob Nielsen boldly proclaimed online readers (i.e., users) detested the flowery language of old-school promotional writing and recommended implementing the following tactics to improve comprehension:

  • Keep your text concise — about 50 percent of one’s full-blown “marketese” version.*
  • Make your layout scannable, using subheads, bullet lists, etc. (as mentioned above).
  • Avoid subjective, boastful language in favor of neutral statements.

*Disclaimer: Blog posts and informational articles prove the exception to the rules when it comes to length under the assumption that an online reader will be willing to give more time and attention to an educational piece he/she intentionally sought out.

Fifteen years later, and the old rules remain very relevant. Furthermore, Nielsen has found:

  • On the average webpage, users have time to read at most 28 percent of the words during an average page visit — and 20 percent is more likely.
  • While users tend to spend more time on pages with more information, the best-fit formula suggests they spend only 4.4 seconds more for each additional 100 words.
  • On an average visit, users read half the information only on pages with 111 words or less.
  • By and large, users will read about 20 percent of the text on an average webpage.
  • When using websites, teenagers have a lower success rate than adults, and they are also easily bored. To work for teens, websites must be simple — but not childish — and supply plenty of interactive features.

All of that goes double when writing for the mobile web. Because the mobile user typically isn’t sitting in the comfort of his/her home or office, his/her attention is being divided by other external stimuli. Take what you’ve already trimmed down for your website and hack away some more so that on-the-go readers get to your core message that much quicker.

Additional tips for mobile website copywriting

  • Keep to between 300 and 500 words max (and less is even better). Fewer words also keep load times down.
  • Restrict writing to sentences that are actionable and focused on user needs.
  • Use full headlines instead of truncated ones, since they provide substantially more information at a glance.

Don’t forget about SEO copywriting

Human eyes are only half of the equation. If you want to attract an audience — and the appropriate audience — you have to be strategic in the use and placement of keywords so that your webpages rank high in a search engines’ results lists.

  • Determine the terms that have the highest number of monthly searches and lowest competition.
  • Distribute those terms generously throughout the page, especially in headlines, subheads, page titles, links and so forth.
  • Don’t go overboard, either in number of optimized phrases or number of usages per page. Find that elegant balance between pleasing people and search engine web crawlers.

Website copywriting: the conclusion

For folks who have a penchant for crafting elaborate introductions, verbose descriptions and needlessly long explanations (e.g., “If you want to learn more about blah blah blah, please click on the link below and fill out a form that will be received by…” instead of a “More information about…” hyperlink), it’s decidedly bad news.

Don’t mistake the mandate for fewer words as a declaration that website copywriting is less work. It takes time and talent to edit out the marketese, to say what you need to say succinctly and successfully while at the same time respecting SEO.

But for writers who want to hone their craft and evolve so that they can be effective communicators no matter what the medium, writing for the web is not only an exciting prospect, but also an essential skill.

Or, to say it simply, if you won’t learn the ins and outs of writing for the web, don’t be surprised when people skim past your key points.

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