Writing for the Web

I just finished the Lynda.com course, Learning to Write for the Web with Chris Nodder.

Basically, Nodder’s point is that web readers are scanning for information so you have to have concise text with a good summary so that visitors to your site know they are in the right place.

  • Always show first, and cut down on your writing so that it is easy for people to read
  • Use headlines, sub-headers, and bullet lists to make your content readable
  • No teaser headlines
  • Write at a 5th grade level
  • Use photos that help the reader understand what your product is about or how it can be used instead of generic stock images
  • Remove jargon and make sure you are writing with facts

All web writing should be like journalist writing, which is showing the who, what, where, when, and how at the beginning, all important facts at the top, then provide interesting details further below.

Instead of having a huge chunk of writing that people should scroll through, text should be appropriately linked to URLs, downloadable content, or attachment pages with more information.

The hardest part of the exercises in this course was being able to cut all the clutter out of a text sample and get to the meat of the information. There is so much jargon and unnecessary wording in one text example that it can feel overwhelming to try to pair it down like a bunch of weeds with prunes.

Going through the editing exercises and seeing how Nodder rewrote it helped to give me a greater understanding of what the final piece should look like on a web page.

There should be minimal text, bullet lists, links to credible sources, and a call to action for the reader with next steps.

I can remember the overload of web writing for a previous company project where the coworkers with PhD’s had written summaries for our website that were nearly impossible to read for the average person.

It was clearly written for a specialist in that field, so anyone else who might be interested in our work would have been totally lost trying to figure out what our website was trying to say.

Had I been an editor at that time, after taking this Lynda.com course I would have targeted the web pages with the most traffic and rewrote them to be more legible and accessible to the general public.

I would have looked at the bounce rates, click-throughs in Google Analytics and figured out where we could make changes.

I also would have organized people in my team to come up with a plan to review old content from years ago, see if it is still relevant today and either remove it from the website or republish with new content. Having content on your website that is over one year old is not useful.

As Nodder says, seasonal information should not still be available online more than 6 months later. Other content should be live no longer than 6-12 months later. After that time frame, reassess, check links, update the content or throw it out because people looking for this year’s events will find your event from last year.

Overall, this was a very good Lynda.com course with helpful information on writing for the web. If you would like to view the full course, see the video below.

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