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Creating a Website

Writing for the Web

Online vs. Offline Readers

Online readers use different sections of the brain than offline readers. When online, readers skip around when they read, clicking on links, looking at graphics. Offline readers take their time and invest in long blocks of text with fewer visual elements.
Web readers don’t sit in front of their computers (or gaze into their cell phones) and read webpages word by word. Instead, they scan pages for useful information. If nothing catches their eye, they go elsewhere. Text needs to be scannable but also provide the answers users seek.

Web stories have three audiences: People, Social Media and Search Engines

Structure

Break your article/post into segments that can be easily accessed and understood. Avoid multi-idea sentences and paragraphs.

  1. Use bulleted lists
  2. Use them whenever possible.

Use heads and subheads to partition your content.

  • H1 - Heading 1 (The title. You can have only one!)

    • H2 - Heading 2 (Subtitles. You can have many of these)

      • H3 - Heading 3

        • H4 - Heading 4

Keep it short:

  • Headings: 4–8 words
  • Subheads: 1–5 words
  • Sentences: 1–20 words
  • Paragraphs: 1–7 sentences
  • Documents: 300–500 words

Headlines/titles should be eye catching and descriptive. Headlines that include expressive adjectives attract more attention and can be highly persuasive. However, don’t go overboard. Try to keep your headlines on a single line.

In general, be as direct as possible in your writing. Lead with your main point, then elaborate. Key facts and important details should be at the beginning of your web page text. Web users are impatient, easily frustrated, and just a click away from leaving your website. The web is not a forum for highlighting mission statements, formal strategic plans, and lengthy biographies. If you choose to post content like this, place it deeper in the site and provide links to it. Users who are interested will find it and those who aren’t won’t be turned off by having to dig through it to find what they really want.

Voice/Language of Content

Use second-person language. Talk to the reader. “You” is the most powerful word on the web. For example: 

  • Good: For answers to your questions, visit our FAQ.
  • Not Good:  People can have their questions answered using the website FAQ.

Don’t be afraid to write in second person or first person. Web readers like to “get to know” the writer, so saying “I recently read that book, and I thought it was great” is fine. Be yourself. However, don’t try to be “hip” unless you really are! Web readers are experts at sniffing out a phony. When writing for blogs, Facebook, or even short news items, use a conversational tone. Light humor can also work wonders when presenting dry subject matter to a general audience.

Avoid acronyms and jargon (FBI and NAACP and other very familiar acronyms are okay).

Provide Links

The use of links  is a major difference between writing for the web and writing for print publications. Web pages rank because they are credible. Credibility comes from links. Inbound links from authoritative websites are the most valuable, but links from within a website are also important.

Try to add at least one internal link per article/post. You can write articles/posts simply to support other pages on the website. Don’t miss the chance to push readers towards other interesting content. Keep an eye open for linking opportunities before you hit the publish button.

Make the text within the links descriptive; use keyword(s) of the page you’re linking to in the anchor text.

Ex. The SDSU Student Newspaper is one of the many sources of information on campus events.

When the link text includes the target key phrase, it helps indicate the relevance of the page to Google. If you can’t find ways to use keywords within the body text, you can always add them as “Related Links” at the bottom of the page or post.

By Roberta Niederjohn, SDSU Library, 2015