Web Content 101 – Writing for the Web
The fundamental difference between writing for the web and writing for anything else is this: Readers don’t READ web content. They SCAN it.
Users are not visiting your page to collect all available information as they browse around. They want to find what they’re looking for as quickly as possible and move on.
That said, always remember that with web writing, LESS is truly MORE.
1. Remember Your Audience!
When writing for the web (or writing for anything, really), you have to write to your audience.
If you’re writing to prospective students (and 99% of you are), make sure your content has everything to do with what they need to know.
Prospective Students DON’T want to know:
- Your mission and vision statement
- Your accreditation procedures
- Your customer service initiative
Prospective Students WANT to know:
- The programs of study you offer
- How to apply to your college
- How to contact you for questions
Who is your audience?
In addition to prospective students, your primary audience, you should also consider:
- Employers (who might want to hire your graduates)
- Corporate partners (who might want to partner with the school in various ways)
- Donors (who might want to invest in your college)
- Current Students (undeclared, but considering your college for study)
- Parents (information gatherers for both current and prospective students)
- Non-Traditional Students (who might want to look at night classes, online classes, etc.)
All content should be viewed through the lens of its use to your audience.*
* Content required by accreditation or other organizations can be linked, but doesn’t have to be featured.
2. Get To The Point!
Because web users are not reading your content as much as scanning it, you’ll want to keep your sentences and paragraphs short and to the point. Don’t overload your page with content.
What to avoid:
- Long blocks of text
- Lists in a sentence, separated by commas
- Long, complex sentences
- Long pages with extensive content
What to embrace:
- Break up text blocks with sub-headings
- Bullet list for easier reading
- Short, concise and active sentences
- Short summary of content with a link to more information
3. Use Compelling Images and Headlines
A great photo can instantly improve any page on your website. Because users have a limited attention span, a compelling photo, paired with a poignant headline, can really draw them in.
You can use thumbnail images to highlight blocks of text as well, helping guide a user down the page. In either case, you’re making it easier to find what they’re looking for.
That said, avoid blinking, animated gifs and the like. Such images can be more distracting than helpful, and more importantly, they make your website look out of date.
4. Plain English, Please!
There is nothing more frustrating to a user than headlines, paragraphs and graphics that make little or no sense to them.
Always strive to speak plain, simple English in the active voice when writing for the web. Catch phrases, cliches and jargon are obstacles to understanding.
Journalists, as a rule, assume an eighth grade reading level when writing articles. This is a great rule to follow if you desire to be understood.
What NOT to do (from another school):
Our office staff maintains records for all students who have been admitted to the college. We are committed to providing students, faculty and other employees with customer-oriented administrative support for registration, maintenance of student records and academic history, graduation, transcripts, academic standing and other related areas. Students are encouraged to contact the Office of the Registrar with any questions they may have regarding their records.
Let’s try that again:
The Office of the Registrar is responsible for maintaining student records at the college.
We provide students with the following types of records:
- Academic History
- Academic Standing
- Other related areas (Feel free to ask!)
Request your transcripts or other records here.
Contact us if you have further questions. We look forward to helping you!
(Insert contact information here)
5. Keep It Fresh!
There is no better way to alienate users than letting your content stagnate.
This doesn’t mean that you have to add new pages and articles every day, but it does mean that you should be consistently “freshening up” the content that is there.
A website maintenance checklist:
- Make sure information is up-to-date, and that dates and times are accurate.
- Change out a photo on occasion. You can rotate through five or six, changing them out each week or two.
- Make sure outward-bound links are current. Siteimprove reports can assist you in finding and fixing broken links.
- Make a habit of adding an article, announcement or other news items at least once a week. It doesn’t have to be long. It just needs to be informative.
- Ask students and other users about the website: what they like, what they don’t like, what they find easy, what they find difficult. The responses will often lead you to good ideas.
Last updated: 9/16/2020