How to Write for the Web: A Guide for Website Owners

Writing for the web is not the same as writing for any other medium (except perhaps email newsletters). For best success, you should follow a few simple rules.

In general, there will be two types of people looking at your website:

  1. People who quickly scan it to see if it contains what they’re looking for, and
  2. People who have found what they’re looking for and will now actually read what you’ve written.

Always write with ‘scanners’ in mind!

How to Write for Scanners

Most people who are scanning your web page will give it three seconds or less before deciding to read further or click away. It’s futile to try to trick these people into reading your web page. You may as well be honest and make it easy for them to quickly see what it’s about:

  • Use headlines.
  • Sparingly boldface and/or italicize key words, phrases, or sentences.
  • If it’s a long page of text, consider an ‘executive summary’ paragraph at top.

Start every page with a descriptive headline that summarizes the page. If you’re into marketing, try to figure out a way to include your marketing message into that headline. If you’re into search engine optimization, also find a way to include the key words and key phrases you’re trying to get a good ranking for into that headline. And for the whole thing, shorter is better!

And then don’t just write long blocks of paragraphs. Break up every two to four paragraphs with a sub-headline that summarizes what’s to follow. Consider putting pictures in every three to four paragraphs as well to liven things up.

If there are key words, phrases, or sentences that you want scanners to be able to catch within your paragraphs, boldface them. Just don’t go overboard with the boldfacing!

How to Write for Readers

While still holding true to the rules for writing for scanners, go ahead and write more in-depth for the benefit of the people who will actually be interested in what you have to say. Just stick to these further rules:

  • Paragraphs should be three to five lines long. Anything longer should be divided into two paragraphs.
  • Stay on topic. Consider creating a new web page for any separate topics.
  • Spell-check and grammer check. All the usual stuff having to do with writing well.
  • Don’t go wild with lots of different fonts and colors. Stick to one font for headlines and one or two for content.
  • Simplify. Eliminate unecessary words. People don’t like to read too much online.

Some of these following things will need to be set up by your web designer:

  • Make text large enough to read.
  • Use regular HTML text instead of rendered images of text.
  • Keep to about 10 to 20 words per line.
  • Consider increased line spacing.

Written January 5, 2008 on 1:01 am in category(s):
Email, Helpful Hints, Marketing, Web Design Tutorial, WordPress | Comments Off

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