Writing for the Web
The FIU WebComm team is holding it’s monthly Uweb meetup this Friday, May 27, 2011. The text below is from the mini-guide we will be handing out, and it covers a few of the best practices for presenting content to your audience. The guide was written with HigherEd in mind, but most of the principles can be applied to writing for the Web in general.
1. Know Your Target Audience.
- Most higher-ed websites, the primary audiences are students and parents.
- Secondary audiences are alumni, faculty and staff, donors and the community.
- Know what your audience is looking for and know what they need.
- Focus Groups
2. Less is More!
- Unless your readers are coming to you for large amounts of information, only give them what they need.
- There should be 60 – 70 words per paragraph at most.
- Limit each paragraph to a single idea or topic.
- Use bullets or numbered lists for everything.
- Whitespace is actually a good thing.
3. No One Reads a Web Page.
- Users scan Web pages in an F-shaped pattern: two horizontal stripes followed by a vertical stripe. Keep this principle in mind when creating your content layout,
- Place the most important information at the beginning of your sentence, paragraph or page.
4. KISS & Talk to (not at) Your Users.
- Keep It Simple Stupid. Use everyday language and keep sentences short.
- Aim for a 5th – 8th grade reading level.
- Engage in a two-way dialogue by using a second person active voice.
- Avoid buzzwords and cliches.
- Don’t use “Welcome!” and “Hello!” or any “happy talk.”
- Don’t try to impress your audience with your IQ.
5. Don’t Create Unnecessary Content.
- Only include information that is valuable to your users.
- If you don’t have any frequently asked questions, then don’t have a FAQ section.
- If the opposite of a statement you are using is ridiculous, don’t use it.
- Ex: “Our campus has excellent professors.” For your campus not to have excellent professors is ridiculous. You want your site to be fluff-free.
6. Don’t Just Cut & Paste.
- Don’t simply copy and paste from your old site onto your new one. Review and refresh the content.
- Minimize unnecessary information and update things where necessary.
- Be consistent in your writing style (numbers, capitalization, etc.). Pay attention to spelling, grammar and sentence structure.
- Also avoid ROT (Redundant/Outdated/Trivial) information.
7. Map it Out & Make it Accessible
- Your readers must be able to easily find what they are looking for.
- Use labels, links, headers, sub-headers, bullets, etc.
- Use words that are logical, not clever.
- Your content should be accessible to those visitors using screen readers. Check out the WC3’s Web Accessibility Guidelines for more information.
- Use the name of the content, page or file that you are linking to.
- Example: “Application for Admission” or “Campus Maps” not “click here” or “this.”
- Let your users know if the link is a file they have to download.
- Example: “Funding Request Form (PDF), (Word)” or “List of Approved Vendors (Excel).”
- If possible, avoid PDF files. They take away from the website, are often large files, and are not accessible without special formatting.
8. Make it Timeless.
- ALWAYS keep your content up to date.
- Don’t use dates in your content unless it’s absolutely necessary.
9. The Almighty Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
- When users are searching for something, they use common terms. Keep this in mind when writing your your keywords, description, titles, etc.
- Don’t use “internal speak” or industry jargon to describe things, people or processes.
- Use your keywords naturally throughout the text – don’t force them in.
- Use the full department/building/program name on each page for the first mention, then you can refer to it by acronym.
- Example: Use “Modesto Maidique Campus (MMC),” and later you can refer to it as “MMC.”
- Header elements (<h1>, <h2> and <h3>) designate what content on your page is the most important.
- Your page title should have the <h1> tag, not <b> or <strong>. Section titles should have <h2> tags, and subtitles should have <h3> tag.
- If you are using a program like Dreamweaver or the Cascade CMS program, you can use the style options of Heading 1 or Heading 2, etc.
- Pay attention to the results your chosen keywords return.
- Research what your peers and competition are using as their keywords.
10. Four Eyes Are Better Than Two.
- Always proofread your copy, and always have a second (or even third) pair of eyes take a look over it before and after it goes live.
Gratitude & Resources…
- Web Writing Guidelines for Content Contributors
- For learning about web writing, Rick recommends Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works, by Janice (Ginny) Redish.
- Other Recommended books in Their Library
- for sharing their Writing for the Web course, which is part of their Skills in the Electronic Workplace (SEW) program for faculty and staff.
And a special thank you to Andre for helping me “kill my darlings” throughout the development of this guide.
- SEO Tutorial Video: Choose the Best Keywords
- Avoid the Deadly Sins of SEO Copywriting
- Best Practices for Page Titles
FIU Web Communications is a full service web team that provides support and consulting for departments at FIU. If you need help in implementing any of your web needs, please contact us.
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