Long before I became a web designer I was a dance instructor. I taught for many years, and during that time I noticed something funny. Musicians often had a difficult time learning to dance. It seemed counter-intuitive considering that music is the driving force behind dance. However, it quickly became apparent that musicians generally listen to music in a different way than dancers. I found that musicians frequently had to work hard to unlearn some of their habits before they could begin to move correctly within the framework of the dance.
Fast forward to the present day, and I have recently run across an analogous situation. I have now worked on a couple of websites for writers, and we’ve had to rewrite their content multiple times to make it work on the site. If a writer has been doing their thing long enough to have developed a “style”, most likely it’s not going to work for the web.
4 things to keep in mind when writing for the web:
1. Get directly to the point.
Nobody ever plans to curl up with a good website. Unlike a book where you can take your time before the big reveal, a website needs to cut to the chase. Visitors should know the point of your website immediately.
2. Assume people are scanning instead of reading.
Make sure the important points are easy to see at a glance. Most people will quickly scan a website, and they’re more likely to absorb information if it’s presented in a way that highlights certain point. Numbered or bullet lists, sub-headers, and bolded words/phrases are all tools which can make the critical information stand out.
3. Lose the prose.
This is a tough one with those for whom writing is an art form. Writing for the web generally means writing for the lowest common denominator. Keep sentences short and use simple language. If it’s not easy to read, it’s rarely effective on a website.
4. Tell people what to do.
Along with knowing the point of your website, your visitors need to know the next step to take. Figure out what you want from your website, and state it clearly. If the point of your website is to sell a product, TELL your visitors to buy it. If you want people to call you, make sure your number is featured prominently and tell your visitors to call.
If you can keep those 4 things in mind while writing for the the web, your content is more likely to be effective. If you’re a writer looking for work, remember that the point of your website is to get work. The language you use to GET work may be different than the language you use ON the work. You can show off your writing skills with examples or articles, but leave the fancy stuff out when writing for the site itself.