To say the Internet is a crowded space is like saying there are a lot of stars in the sky, sand on the beach, or atoms in a cell. According to Internet Live Stats, there are more than 1.9 billion websites in existence, more than 3.5 billion Google searches every day, and roughly 350,000 tweets sent every minute.
Capturing readers’ interests in this exploding digital universe can be immensely challenging. A study from analytics service Chartbeat found that 55 percent of visitors spend 15 seconds or fewer on a webpage.
Good website writing is the key to beating these statistics. Well-written content that’s optimized for the web rises to the top of search results and holds readers’ attention.
Some writing tips apply regardless of whether your prose appears on screen, in print or carved into a pyramid wall. Other tactics are especially relevant for digital scribes. Follow these 11 principles to make sure your website content gets the attention it deserves.
1. Know your audience
It sounds simple, but so many writers put pen to paper—or finger to keyboard—before thinking about who it is they’re trying to reach. Before drafting content, ask yourself these questions: Who is my primary audience? What about a secondary audience who can influence and inform my primary audience? How will they find my site online?
For example, say you’re creating a website for a law firm. Your primary audience might be existing clients. However, your secondary audience is much broader and could include other attorneys, law reporters, or anyone who might need your services in the future. You’ll need to make sure your content is both accessible and interesting to all of these audiences. What kind of questions might these groups ask about a particular topic? Where are they most active online? What kind of information do they need?
Audiences find web content through many different paths—social media sharing, links from other websites, email sharing, and search engine results. That last method is especially important when you write for the web. Text could be extremely well-written and informative, but if it’s not optimized for search engines, chances are few people will find it. Think of your audience again: what search terms would they type into Google? Make sure to include those terms in headlines and sub-headers.
2. Follow the “inverted pyramid” model
Web readers have short attention spans—they’ll decide whether your site has the information they need in seconds. Structure your content like an upside-down pyramid or cone. The most important messages go at the top of the page. Then, gradually drill down to the more specific, supporting information. End with tangential details.
For example, say you’re creating a webpage about a conference. The most pertinent details—a description of the theme, date, and location—would appear at the top of the page. Supporting details like speakers and their lecture topics would follow. The less important information—such as conference organizers, the history of the conference series or a list of related resources—would appear at the bottom of the page.