10 tips for writing effective website copy

It’s important to choose words wisely when writing for the web. Here are some quick tips when producing written content for websites and apps.

Each website has its own unique goals and objectives. Whatever those are, most will have one thing in common. Words.

Language is essential in both your content and your user interface. Someone’s ability to complete a task is totally reliant on understanding the words on the page.

Website copywriting is an entire discipline, and there’s an awful lot to know about doing it well. That said, everyone involved in designing or managing sites should at least know the fundamentals. To help out, we’ve put together ten simple tips to improve your website copy.

1. Use short and simple sentences

Aim to use simple language that your visitors can easily understand. Shorter sentences are easier to read, and lend themselves to the way users skim and scan web copy.

Try to write in shorter sentences and fragment your content wherever possible. Sentences with many commas can often be reworked to only include one. Whilst there are definitely exceptions, try and stick to the ‘one comma rule’ when you can.

Example of writing for the web

2. Less is more

People want to grab information and use it quickly. We go to the web to get answers to questions and complete tasks. We’re far too busy to read dense paragraphs of waffle that doesn’t give us what we need.

The presentation of content can also be enhanced by using more white space in the layout. Make content easier to read by providing plenty of line and paragraph breaks. They give people much needed ‘breathing room’ so they can take in each point, one at a time.

3. Use headings and sub-headings

Online readers process information differently compared to print. People are a lot more likely to skim-read text, especially when it comes to long-form content.

If you have a lot of information on the page, consider splitting it up into manageable sections, each with a clear heading. Subsections can use different heading styles, each getting less prominent as points are nested.

‘Style to be good must be clear. Clearness is secured by using words that are current and ordinary.’ Aristotle

4. Use list formats when appropriate

When you need to provide multiple points to the user in a single piece of content, formatted lists should always be used. Lists can be unordered (bullet points) or ordered (numbered).

Either way they allow content to be more easily scanned and digested, compared to dense paragraphs.

5. Use active voice

Using active voice involves putting the subject before the verb in your sentence structure. Doing this means the subject ‘acts upon’ the verb.

Prescribing to active voice reduces the risk of writing confusing, ‘wordy’ sentences. It also makes your text easier to skim, as the more important parts of the sentence are placed at the beginning.

Example of writing for the web

6. Translate acronyms the first time you use them

Don’t use an acronym without first providing the full phrase in your content. It risks confusing users who don’t know the jargon. As writers very easy to take our understanding of the technical detail for granted.

The first time you use an acronym should be in brackets, after using the actual phrase.

Example of writing for the web

7. Provide clear calls to action

Buttons and links are generally used to prompt the user to take action. Typically this is to start or finish a process, or to find more information about a certain topic. The text we use on these buttons should be easy to understand, and encourage visitors to interact.

A button or link’s purpose should be immediately clear.

It shouldn’t need any extra context or assumptions to make sense. This means that users shouldn’t need to read the text surrounding a button to understand what it does. This is also an important consideration for visitors using screen readers, where links are often read separately from the surrounding text content to speed up navigation.

Example of writing for the web

8. Links should NEVER say ‘click here’

Relates to the last point, but we feel this specific sin is so dastardly it deserves special attention.

By design, clickable links and buttons should be most prominent visual elements of your content. There’s no reason to instruct people to click on them. As a culture we’ve been using the web for a long time, and people know how to click links.

The real problem with using ‘click here’ for link text is that the user won’t have a clue what it does unless they also take in the surrounding information. It makes scanning for links impossible, and it becomes much harder differentiate specific tasks in the user interface.

Remember ; the design should indicate the interactivity, and the text should describe the function.

Example of writing for the web

9. Give due space to important messages and actions

Giving some space to important callout messages and key links makes them easier to find. As we’ve discussed, most users will skim down a page instead of reading it detail. The most important features of your content should therefore be drawn out visually, with plenty of white space. This makes them more likely to be spotted at a glance.

It’s also important to visually group related content. The message should be clearly linked to any related information. Whilst it’s important to make things impactful, it mustn’t loose context either.

“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter." Blaise Pascal

10. Learn from the best

Hopefully this article has raised some points to be mindful of when next writing web copy.

Remember, writing for the web is a huge topic. There’s always new research and best practices to keep up with.

Fortunately there are a number of tools and resources readily available. Here are just a few that we use regularly at Pixel Fridge :

  • Nielsen Norman Group – Articles, research and best practice around writing for the web.
  • – Usability standards from the US department of Health & Services.
  • Hemmingway editor – An online text editor we love, that encourages more succinct writing.

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