Writing for the web

5 Apr 2010

People don’t like to read information from a computer screen. They scan pages for important content, and click on the first link that catches their eyes or vaguely resembles the information that they were searching for.

The more content you have the less people will read. This is because too much text on a page is intimidating; it scares people away.

In addition to this, having a lot of text is bad for Search Engine Optimization (SEO), because it means that your important keywords are buried within a lot of less relevant text.

Short, succinct copy is the goal, and these tips are intended to help you write for the web, or review existing content with both optimization and readability in mind.

Most Important Things To Remember:

  • Copywriting is about selling first and writing second. This involves an understanding of your reader and what makes them tick.
  • Focus on the reader. It’s not about you, your company or your product. Figure out who they are, what they want, what will make them buy from you.

A good copywriter knows their product inside out. A great copywriter knows their audience inside out. Build a psychological profile of your typical reader, and keep it in mind when writing your text. Ask yourself:

  • How old are they?
  • What sex are they?
  • What are their hopes/ fears/ desires/ vices?
  • What is their occupation?
  • What is their income bracket?
  • What do they want more (or less) of in their lives?
  • Do they value money or less stress higher?
  • Do they value fashion or comfort higher?
  • What are their values?
  • How do they see themselves?
  • How do others see them?
  • Are they lead by their head or their heart?
The more insights you can gain in to your reader’s mind, the more likely you are to write copy that appeals to them in a way that they can’t ignore.

  • Always refer to the reader as ‘you.’ Not ‘some of you’ or ‘all of you.’ Imagine that only one person is reading your copy
  • Use ‘you’ at least three times for every time you say “I” or “we.”
  • Don’t tell people what they are interested in, e.g. “as a busy managing director, you’ll want to know all about…”
  • If you state a fact about your product, follow it with the benefit to the reader.
  • Keep in mind the reader’s constant state of mind “What’s in it for me?”

Benefits selling:

You must provide plenty of objective reasons why your reader should buy your product, but remember that people buy mostly on emotional grounds. Benefits sell. Features do not.

Tell the reader how your product will improve their life, and they will care. Tell them that it has a 16 gigowatt engine and is made of a polycarbonate encrusted shell, and they will not.

Writing for the web is all about showing your readers that your product is the solution to their problem. That means the first thing you have to do is to work out what their problem is.

How will your product improve your reader’s life? Answer that question in the first 2 sentences and you’re off to a great start. Mention as many benefits as you can, and use concrete, specific examples to illustrate what you’re saying.

F – features - our websites are designed bespoke for your business
A –advantages – your visitors will be impressed and consider your business creative and professional
B – benefits - your revenue will increase dramatically

So, how is it done?

1. Put the most important information at the top

The “inverted pyramid” began in Journalism and is hugely relevant to writing for the web.

Identify your key message make sure it is within the first paragraph, because the reader could stop reading at any time. Most people read just 3 lines before deciding whether or not the page is relevant.

Ask yourself what you want the user to do with/find out from this page. Make this the most obvious part of your content. If your reader can identify quickly what each page is about, they can decide whether it is worth reading further.

2. Less is more!

A good rule is that you should be saying the same as you say in print on the web using half as many words. War and Peace, for example, will never be popular as an e-book.

  • Keep your language and sentence structure simple. This is not time to show off your vocabulary.
  • Dense chunks of complex text will put readers off.
  • Remember, short copy is good copy
  • Stick to one idea per paragraph.

3. Make web pages easy to scan

The web is a visual medium, so it’s very important to provide the visual clues for scanning

  • Highlight key information
  • Use bulleted lists
  • Break up copy into short paragraphs
  • Use headings and subheadings as visual clues

(click to enlarge)

4. Use brief and emotive Headlines

Headlines are one of the most important things you will write on the web. The first couple of words need to be real attention-grabbers if you want your visitors to read on.

  • Be concise. They should not be longer than 10 words
  • Use clear and descriptive keywords. Remember that headings count very highly towards your optimization.
  • Use headlines to get your reader’s attention and provide information about what the text is about
  • Use powerful words to grab attention
Example Bad/ Good words:
Optimal / Best
Cost Effective / Cheap
Impact negatively / Hurt
Raison d'etre / Purpose

5. Use brief and effective Links

Links are great for helping people navigate around your site and around the wider web with ease. Longer links are harder to read than shorter ones, so be as concise as possible.

  • Avoid the use of “click here,” as the link text, for optimization as well as readability reasons
  • Text in links counts highly for search engines; try to choose a keyword or phrase as the link text.
  • Try to make links read as part of the text.
  • Links are good, but only link to reputable and relevant sites.
  • Don’t use complete sentences as links.
  • If you want someone to read important content, make sure you place the link AFTER the content, not before or in the middle.

6. Consider the way people search

Put yourself in the mind of your perfect visitor and try to use the language and words that they might use to find you.

This will make your pages easier to understand for the user and have a higher chance of being picked up in searches. The best thing about the web is that your perfect customer is the person who is searching for you!

Example: Use cartoon instead of animation if that is what you think your target audience will type in to Google.

7. Avoid scrolling pages where possible

Most users only scroll up to 2 web pages. To avoid scrolling:
  • Be ruthless - cut & edit unnecessary content
  • Break up large chunks of content into multiple pages with this,
  • Use ‘more information’ links for people who are particularly interested in the subject
  • Link out to supporting information

8. Use plain English

Plain English does not mean ‘dumbing down’ your text, it's about having a clear message that helps readers to locate key information. Avoid jargon and don’t write in a flowery, academic or marketing style. Don’t use prior to when before is just as good

9. Avoid welcome waffle

Never use the phrase “welcome to our website” or an equivalent. It’s like small talk, it doesn't convey any information; it’s an attempt to be welcoming and friendly. However, web users don't have time for small talk, they just want to find information (e.g. name and telephone number) and then move on. On the web it’s all about quick communication and getting fast results.

Your website section will actually be much more user-friendly if you avoid welcome waffle.

10. Last but not least: Proofread your text and check your grammar!


  • Begin by planning your text carefully and thoroughly
  • Only write once you know exactly what you want to say in each paragraph and the tone you will take
  • Keep your imagined reader in mind constantly
  • Keep it short, but more importantly, keep it relevant
  • Use benefits, rather than features to sell your product
  • Read and rewrite as many times as necessary. Leave it for a day and come back to it before signing it off.

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