Sometimes you get the impression that there is as much content on the Internet as stars in the sky, grains of sand by the sea or atoms in a cell. According to Internet Live Stats, there are currently over 1.9 billion websites. 3.5 billion Google searches take place every day and 350,000 tweets are sent every minute.
Awakening readers’ interest in this constantly growing digital universe is a daunting challenge. A study by the analytics service provider Chartbeat found that 55 percent of users only spend up to 15 seconds on one page.
The answer to this trend is good, web-friendly writing. Appealingly written and optimized for the web ends up among the first search results and captivates the attention of readers.
Certain writing tips are always valid – regardless of whether your texts appear on a screen, are printed on paper or decorate the inside walls of a pyramid. Some other strategies are particularly relevant for the digital world.
We present 11 practical rules that will give your content the attention it deserves:
It sounds simple, but many authors don’t worry about their target audience before putting their words on paper or on the screen. Before you start writing, you should ask yourself the following questions: Who is my main target group? And do I have something like an extended target group that could influence my main target group? How do these groups find my website?
For example, you are creating a website for a law firm. In this case, your main target group would be your existing customers. However, your extended target group would be much larger and would consist of other lawyers, court reporters and generally anyone who might need your services in the future. Your content should be understandable and interesting for all of these target groups. What questions could these groups have on a particular topic? Where are you most frequently online? What information do you need?
Target groups find content in many different ways – via shared social media posts, links from other sites, links in emails or search engines. The last method is especially important if you are creating content for the web. No matter how well written and informative your text is, but if it isn’t optimized for search engines, hardly anyone will find it. So think about your target group and ask yourself: Which search terms would they type in on Google? You should definitely use these terms in your main and subheadings.
2. Follow the “inverted pyramid” model
Readers on the Internet have a short span of attention …
… they decide within seconds whether your site offers the information they are looking for. So structure your content like a funnel or an upside-down pyramid. The essential information is at the top of your page. Then you work your way up to the further information and ends with the rather unimportant things.
Let’s say you create a conference website. The most important details such as topic, date and location are at the top of the page. This would be followed by further information such as speakers and topics. The less important information – organizer, history of the conference and additional information – are at the bottom of the page.
3. Write short and simple sentences
Long sentences are for Thomas Mann – the short attention span of today’s readers cries out for sentences with a maximum of 35 words. According to an OECD study, just 10.7 percent of UKs achieve the highest two levels of reading literacy. 17.5 percent even read at the level of a 10-year-old child! Therefore, the conclusion is: The simpler and more understandable you make your content, the more readers you will reach.
Mainly uses nouns and verbs and uses adverbs and adjectives sparingly. Don’t write words like “laconic” or “echo” when “calm” or “upset” do.
If you are not sure at what level you are writing (like most of us), you can check your texts using various readability models.
Most known models evaluate the word and sentence lengths in a text. An index or a corresponding educational level is calculated from this. These three tools scan your texts and assess their readability:
4. Uses active formulations
Uses active rather than passive verb forms and names the subject of the sentence. So don’t write “a coffee was ordered” but rather “the man ordered a coffee”. Instead of “Products can be ordered from us” you write “You can order products from us”.
An active language ensures concise and read-friendly sentences. You’re also more direct. A direct address (“you can do it”) takes your readers with you more than “you can do it”.
5. Show, don’t tell
Do not limit your texts to general statements. Illustrative examples from real life help your readers to better understand and visualize your content. Check out these two descriptions:
The best dog toy you can buy for money.
Our “Wilder Waldi” dog toy is made of 100 percent natural rubber and is particularly resistant. We designed it to survive even the toughest chewers without holes or cracks.
Which version gives you a more precise impression of the toy? Let’s face it: it’s the second. The descriptive description makes the bone much more tangible than a superficial assertion ever could.
An additional plus is that concrete, detailed product information improves the SEO of your website. They also provide your customers with all the important information they need to make a purchase decision.
6. Forget technical language
The Internet is there for everyone – not just technology experts. Spell out abbreviations the first time you use them, avoid insider vocabulary, and explain technical terms and other complicated words. Also set hyperlinks to other articles that provide your readers with more detailed information on certain topics.
Take a look at this sentence:
The journalist got an original sound that he later used for the MAZ.
Only radio journalists understand this. A reader-friendly version would be:
The journalist spoke to an accident witness. He later used his statement in his news story.
This tip is particularly important if you work in a technical branch of industry, but want to address non-specialist customers with your website. Always remember that you are creating content for your target group and not for your colleagues. An understandable language makes you appear open and accessible – exactly the impression that you want to convey to your future customers.
7. Varies in word choice
Words are like cookies – everyone has their favorite pastries. But if you want to keep your visitors busy, the key is: variety. Word clouds are a good way to create them.
Word clouds are as fun as they are practical. You can see at a glance which words you use most often and you can vary your choice of words accordingly. Simply copy your text into a free tool like Wortwolken.com and create your own word cloud. The more you use a word, the bigger it will look in your cloud. Have you used a certain word too often? Enter it in a thesaurus and look for a synonym for your text.
Do a lot of negative words stand out from your cloud? Then you now know exactly what you need to change for a more positive tone. Look out for your keywords too. These should appear several times in your text and should therefore be easy to find in a word cloud.
There is one big exception, however: key terms should be the same across your entire website. Otherwise you confuse your visitors. As a photographer, you shouldn’t offer “shootings” on one side and “photo sessions” on the other.
Creates a list of terms that describe your company. Then groups all words that mean the same thing. Choose a favorite and use it anywhere on your website. About as:
Used: photo shoot
Not: photo session, photo appointment, shooting
Are your customers clients, patients or users? Do you offer services, packages or plans? Once you have created this list, you can use it to check each of your texts before you publish it.
8. Make your text easy to skim
In your text, the most important information should not only be at the very beginning. It should also be easy to fly over. Most readers on the Internet read the page briefly to find the information they are looking for – if they don’t find it right away, move on.
You don’t think that? Then pay close attention to your behavior the next time you open a website that you have never visited before. Do you read every word from start to finish? Or do you look around and look for the information you want?
- Uses bullet points or numbered lists instead of long wordy paragraphs. Spread your content across multiple sub-pages instead of one page.
- Leave enough space (“White Space”). This is how you designate the free spaces between paragraphs, images and other elements on your page. This may seem like a waste of space, but “white space” is actually a web designer’s best friend. Generous white space around your text makes it easier to read.
- Divide your content into sections with meaningful subheadings. A website on climate change could list its information, for example, under the following headings:
- What is climate change?
- Triggers of climate change
- Current and future effects of climate change
- Solutions for less emissions
- Learn more
These subheadings not only help your readers find their way around your site. They also help search engines find your content. On your CWT Advertising website, you simply select the text block that you want to edit. Then you mark your headline, click on “Style” and determine its size. Use a large heading (H1) at the top of each page, medium headings (H2) to divide your main content, and small headings (H3) for non-essentials.
9. Uses multimedia
Sometimes a picture – or an infographic or a video – really says more than a thousand words. People process visual content 60,000 times faster than text. With an easy-to-understand graph or graphic, you can explain complicated content better. Even if you are not a full-time graphic designer, there are many ways to use visual content on your website. With offers like Canva or Piktochart you can also create graphics yourself.
In addition, pictures loosen up your text and make it easier to read. We recommend at least one picture on each page of your website.
10. Uses internal links
The nice thing about a website is that you can easily send readers from one page to another. Words and phrases linked to other subpages help your readers find even more interesting content – especially on your own website. This ensures that your readers continue to deal with your content and stay on your side.
Let’s say this sentence would be on your Koch website: Ratatouille is a low-fat dish made from seasonal ingredients such as eggplant, pumpkins and tomatoes. So you could link “low-fat meal” with a blog entry that deals with healthy eating.
These internal links on your website will also help you with your SEO. But always remember that links should always be relevant and useful. If you overload your text with links, your readers will no longer know what to click on. Google recommends that you limit the amount of hyperlinks on each page to a “reasonable amount”.
11. Awakens the desire for more
A tip: definitely use a strong call-to-action (CTA) at the end of each subpage. With CWT Advertising, for example, you can use the easy-to-customize buttons. Do you want to get your visitors to fill out a contact form? Or a video that you should definitely watch? And what about a related blog post or downloadable report? By linking to the right place on your website with buttons, you direct your readers to other areas of your website and encourage them to share your content with family and friends.
Your call-to-actions should be short and concise and contain verbs like: “Download”, “Share”, “Participate”, “Sign”, “Learn more” or “Watch”. And you’d better double-check that you have the correct hyperlink. Otherwise, they cannot perform the action you hope they will do.
Creating good content is work – often not easy. But remember: Your texts don’t have to be perfect on the first try! Once your website is online, you can check and optimize it regularly.
Now you are ready to create creative and effective content that will appeal to the most volatile and impatient readers.
And after you have written your content, it is worth taking a look at this checklist for legible web design.