If you’ve got a website that you want people to read as opposed to just look at (or be completely confused by), here are three easy tips for writing website content that will make life easier for your visitors. And the good news is, you can use these tactics right now on what you’ve already posted.
TIP #1: Use more paragraphs—especially when writing website content
The ONLY place where gigantic paragraphs will fly is in 19th-century novels and certain nonfiction books. (And in most things written by teenagers on social platforms.) Attention spans within the masses are dwindling, as is the mental strength needed to trudge through 15- or 20-line paragraphs.
On the Internet, short paragraphs are very important. Readers can easily digest information that’s grouped into brief, coherent sections. But few online readers will have the patience—or the attention span—to tackle paragraphs that measure four or five inches in real-space.
Write it, then break it up
When you’re writing something, go ahead and get your thoughts down, even if it’s your normal practice to pretend there’s no such thing as an Enter key. But when you’re finished, go back and break up the paragraphs.
In most applications, the majority of your paragraphs should be two to five lines high. (Rule of thumb: the wider the page margins, the fewer the lines in the paragraphs.) And don’t be afraid to make a paragraph out of a single sentence, if the sentence is particularly long or complex.
On the other hand . . .
On the other hand, don’t go to the opposite extreme when writing website content or any other kind of content. You see a growing number of online writers today breaking up their paragraphs to the extent they look like somebody drove a car through them. Somehow, these trend-setters got the idea that a paragraph is too long if it’s longer than a single sentence. This makes for difficult reading. The job of readers is to stay with the flow of thought, but how can they when there’s no flow? All there is is a spattering of ideas. Good writing weaves words and ideas together in ways that keep readers moving right along.
To prove my point, here’s an example of this ugly, disjointed writing style using the paragraph above:
On the other hand, don’t go to the opposite extreme when writing website content or any other kind of content.
You see a growing number of online writers today breaking up their paragraphs to the extent they look like somebody drove a car through them.
Somehow, these trend-setters got the idea that a paragraph is too long if it’s longer than a single sentence.
This makes for difficult reading.
The job of readers is to stay with the flow of thought, but how can they when there’s no flow?
All there is is a spattering of ideas.
Good writing weaves words and ideas together in ways that keep readers moving right along.
Who the hell wants to read something that looks like that like that? It looks like a first-grader put it together.
TIP #2: Writing website content requires more use of subheads
Headings and subheads visually break up the wash of content on a page, so that’s the first reason to use them. They also indicate what kind of information is coming next, which keeps readers engaged.
H-tagged subheads also can contain keywords, which is always good.
How many subheads should you use?
The content will dictate how many to use in a given piece, but a safe rule is one heading for every three to five paragraphs. Even one or two in the entire piece is fine, depending on the length of the piece. Readers love headings because they feel they’re being led by the hand by an intelligent guide, rather than thrown into the content field to fend for themselves.
(Note that bullet lists, graphics and content set off in a different font or color all serve a similar purpose as headings.)
TIP #3: Turn big lists into bullets
When you have a paragraph that contains more than three or four small and related pieces of information, you can make a list to keep readers from getting bogged down. Example of this kind of paragraph:
We supply outdoors enthusiasts with waterproof sleeping bags, easy-to-assemble tents, Coleman lanterns in four different styles, a full line of camping cookware, backpacks for both children and adults, and a large selection of rugged hiking boots.
That’s too much for most readers to take in all at once in paragraph form. A lot of the impact is lost. Here’s a better way (along with some re-writing):
We supply outdoors enthusiasts with everything they need for the perfect camping adventure
- Waterproof sleeping bags
- Easy-to-assemble tents
- Coleman lanterns in four different styles
- Full line of camping cookware
- Backpacks for children and adults
- Large selection of rugged hiking boots
You can see the difference immediately.
The key to communicating online is: MAKE EVERYTHING AS EASY AS POSSIBLE FOR YOUR READERS. These three simple tips for writing website content will transform anything you write or have already written and give it a better chance of keeping readers’ attention.
(Here’s some more about what goes into website copywriting, and here are some tips you can use to improve marketing content for websites and other materials.)