Copywriting for the web – Menu Please!
While editing a client’s web copy today I became baffled by just how many words there were!
As a writer, I see my way around a fair few of the things, but today I was reminded of how few of the words on a page we actually read.
People scan to a certain extent when reading books, identifying key words and then automatically linking them together to form meaning – but on the web it’s a whole new story.
I wondered what amount of copy on a website actually gets read, so I ventured into the Googlesphere to investigate.
Over at Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox I read a study that suggests that site visitors actually only pick up on 28 per cent of words on a page – at best. (A more likely figure is 20 per cent.)
Now, blogs and articles are obviously a different story – you’re targeting a smaller, more interested niche. But when it comes to general web copy, it’s time to cut down.
It’s been standard practice to write concisely for the web since day dot com, but how to do this and still get the message across can be less straight forward.
Here are three tips on how to emphasize the important bits when you’re contending with an average visiting time of 4.4 seconds per 100 words:
1. Use your site hierarchy as a guide
- Keep landing page copy very limited. Think of it as a place to greet your audience and offer them a menu.
- The next level of pages in the site hierarchy can have more information, but don’t go overboard! Here, you’re dividing your audience into sections.
- If your visitors click through to another level, it’s obvious they are more interested in finding detailed information. Now, it’s time to provide it.
Glenn Murray gives the following guide for word count:
- 100-150 words for a homepage – it’s important for most valuable information to be “above the fold” (in view without needing to scroll down),
- 250-500 words for pages lower in the site hierarchy – this might include product or service pages or “about us” pages; and
- 300-1000 words for blog posts
2. Use sign posts
If you’re telling someone how to get somewhere, you’ll give them some landmarks or sign posts to look out for so they know they’re on the right track. Do this with your writing, by making the important bits stick out. Here’s how:
- Bullet points
These devices break up the copy and make it easier to read. What’s more Google uses bold words, headings and bullet points as important sign posts too!
3. Be conversational
Your tone will be somewhat dictated by the topic of your website, however writing for the web affords you a bit of linguistic leeway. Even if it’s a corporate website, a personal, easy-to-approach feel is going to keep your visitors around longer.
If you’ve got 4.4 seconds to start a conversation you don’t start with jargon or wordsthatarejusttoolongthatpeoplecan’tbebotheredreading.
Instead, you say hello and hand over a menu. That’s service.