Monday, Monday !

Well here we are again – Mondays are great as far as I’m concerned as yet another week beckons and though it’s half-term the sprogs are pitch and putting with mum. It may be a damp day outside but the dogs are walked and I’ve already chucked 7,000 words into the PC and having my post-fresh air cup of Earl Grey. No fags though as I quite 6 weeks ago – “Yay!” for me.

I have been appointed as editor of a military website operating out of San Diego, California. The subject matter is slightly more interesting to me as I’m a former soldier, but what I’m finding more interesting than any of the content is the variation in presentation and writing style and the visible effects that is happening on the traffic both to and within the site.

Clive has posted up on some of the issue surrounding writing for the web and I’m going to add my opinion on this too. Supaproofread has a link to an article by Jakob Nielsen which you really should read as it contains some extremely good advice, and the most important point to grasp is that web surfers rarely read what you write, rather they scan it in a matter of seconds before moving on…unless you grab and hold their attention.

Web readers scan rather than read word by word what is on a web page – email readers are even more brutal in scanning content, rarely getting past the email header. For you as a web content provider, you have a very difficult job ahead which is to attract the surfer’s attention and hold it while you get your message over.

Here are some tips to help you achieve this:

  • Highlighting – including hyperlinks will automatically provide a form of eye-catching highlighting but make liberal use of bold and italic typefaces as well resizing fonts as necessary;
  • Headlines, Headers and Sub-Headers – use your headers and sub-headers in a meaningful way; ask yourself will your header get the reader to read the first line of the piece? Do your sub-headers transmit the jist of the content and allow the reader to make a decision on whether to stay or move on? They are not going to hang around if they are not sure, on average you have 5 to 7 seconds to pursuade someone to read what you’re presenting;
  • One Paragraph = One Idea – paragraphs should encapsulate an idea and lead on as they develop ideas already presented in a piece; be concise and use the rule: 1 paragraph presents 1 idea;
  • Word Count – half the word count is suggested as being appropriate for web content when comparing a piece to conventional written presentation. Surfers are turned off by marketing language which tends to be florid and takes 10 words when 1 will do, however there is a caveat here. Some web content is not aimed at being read by humans but is there to help with search engine rankings as part of a SEO exercise to get higher search engine rankings, this makes it important that you know who your primary target audience are; and
  • Lists & Bullet Points – just like this one; they convey succinctly and concisely in an easily scanned format what you are wittering on about.

When you are planning and reviewing web content work it pays to keep in mind the surfing habits of the target audience as well as checking for typos and grammar errors when you are proofing the piece after drafting. My anecdotal experience is that surfers are staying on pages that have adopted these rules for more than ten times the amount of time spent on “conventionally” presented written content. That means increased sales and money for my principal, and incidentally, for me!