Web content writing rules based on Internet users behaviour
Writing web content is very different from writing fiction.
We have previously considered blogs and the main benefits of blogging, which are the increase of search engine rankings, organic traffic and conversion rates. Blogging is also one of the ways to keep website content fresh and up-to-date. Besides blog posts you can also produce other web content: tutorials, product reviews, showcases, interviews, research reports, etc.
Today we’ll focus on a web content in general and discover how modern Internet users perceive information. Taking into consideration this information, we’ll conclude with some recommendations on how to best write web content to provide a positive user experience.
Tips for writing effective web content
When writing for the web, keep it laconic
Everything we don’t know or doubt we have become used to searching online. According to Google Annual Search Statistics, the number of Google searches grew from 3 millions in 1998 to to 3 trillions in 2016, and will likely grow further each year.
Users got used to getting answers to their questions in seconds. So articulate your thoughts as briefly as possible. Try to convey the main idea using as few words as possible. A 4-line paragraph is better than a 10-line one. The optimal article length should be 7 minutes to read, in order to capture the most attention. This is an average of 1,500 words.
Structure web content to make it easily scanned
As it became more affordable to people due to the invention of Internet, information has lost its previous value. People no longer read, instead they scan a text to quickly to assess whether it deserves their attention or not. As Attention Span Statistics show, the average attention span dropped from 12 sec. in 2000 to 8.25 in 2015, which is less than a goldfish.
As the pace of life becomes faster and technical progress made us lazier, we want to acquire maximum information with the minimum amount of time. Online users feel discouraged when they see a solid piece of text that takes a lot of time to process.
That’s why you need to structure your content:
- Divide text into small logical paragraphs and give them names containing keywords.
- Highlight the main phrases with a bigger font, or use bold or italics.
- Use bulleted and numbered lists.
Let users quickly get the general idea and catch the essence after scanning your web page.
Use an inverted pyramid with diminishing information importance order
Very rarely do people read every word to the bottom of the web page. Usually users read in a F-shaped pattern, paying the most attention to the upper part of the textual content area. So if they didn’t find anything useful in the first part of your content, they would rather leave your site and keep on searching somewhere else.
That’s why you should structure your content in an upside-down pyramid style, with the information structured in a decreasing order of importance. This means that the most substantial information goes first to interest readers. Then describe the details to disclose the topic or give arguments to support the idea. The less important, surprising and relevant material should be put at the end.
Orient users what next steps to take
Unlike a book, a website isn’t read progressively. So expect your users to start getting acquainted with your website from any random web page on your site, which may or may not be an entry page. That’s why besides the navigation bar that serves as a book’s table of contents, you should use call-to-action buttons and links to give a hint about what to do next, and to tell people what other pages they should navigate to find more information related to what they are reading now.
For example, “Recent posts,” “Popular articles,” “Users who read this also are interested in,” “Customers who bought this item also bought,” “Frequently bought together,” “Be the first to comment,” “Join the conversation,” “Ask a question,” “Read a review,” or “Request a quote.”
Write effective link anchors
Hyperlinks are a part of content and one of the ways to improve website’s navigation. They should help users easily predict where exactly they lead to. Ideally, link names should copy the name of linked pages, but that’s not always possible. What’s important is to grab the main idea of linked content. Make links meaningful, avoid anchors like “this,” “here,” or “click here.”
Make your links distinctive
Make your links recognisable among plain text by coloring and underlining them. Use different colors for clicked and unclicked links to avoid confused users running in circles. According to Nielsen Norman Group, 74% of sites use different colors for visited and unvisited links, making this design an unspoken rule that your users expect to meet on your site too.
Underlining links helps color-blind users notice them and allows your site use the benefits of web accessibility. Even if you don’t underline your link anchors, don’t disappoint users by underlining other unclickable text, because underlines have a strong association with clickability.
Represent numbers as digits, not words
As eye-tracking studies show, numerals stop the wandering eye and cause gaze fixations. Figures are more noticeable than letters in words, which are more likely to be skipped when scanning. For example, “78” stands out more than “seventy-eight” in a text body.
This is because digits are a compact and, therefore, attractive representation of complicated information that requires less efforts and time to be processed by human brain than a redundant word. In addition, numbers represent facts, which implies the information is reliable and attention-worthy.
The exceptions could be large numbers with lots of zeros, which are tough to interpret. For instance, four trillion is better than 4,000,000,000,000. You can also mix figures and letters, like 100 trillion instead of one hundred trillion or 100,000,000,000,000.
Check your web content for mistakes
Content written with a lot of grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes is evidence of either the author’s lack of knowledge and unprofessionalism or a machine translation. Mistypings and missed gaps are evidence of carelessness and negligence or haste. Such errors leave bad impressions.
To be trustworthy and respectful, check and recheck what you have written before you post it on a live site. Look at your content after a while with fresh eyes to notice what you might have overlooked. Use different special programs like Language Tool or have your text reviewed by another person.
So if you are going to sum up the behaviour of modern Internet users, there are a few key things to keep in mind. They usually scan rather than read. They pay more attention to the upper part of page and rarely read until the end. They focus on subheadings, bold and large fonts in the text.
That’s why when writing for web, keep your message laconic and well-structured. Locate the information in the order of diminishing importance. Highlight the main phrases. Write clear link anchors that reveal the essence of the content to which they lead. Write numbers as numerals, not words, except for large numbers with lots of zeros.
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