First impressions can draw readers in — or send them elsewhere. With web pages, you have only a few seconds to convince site visitors not to click the Back button.
How do you keep them reading?
Understand how they read, and give your audience what they came for.
How readers read web pages
Skimming, scanning, and reading
Reading online is harder on the eyes than reading printed material. People often skim and scan web pages instead. However, with increasingly more information and articles available online, people are now reading web content more than before.
Whether your readers skim, scan, or read your web page line by line, make it easy for them:
- Make the purpose of each page clear.
- Write titles and subheads that help readers find and understand information.
- Make subheads a contrasting color so that readers can scan the page easily.
- Keep most sentences no longer than about 20 words.
- Keep paragraphs short, no more than a few lines. Large chunks of text are harder to read.
- Use bulleted lists when appropriate for the content.
Where the eyes go
When people look at web pages, their eyes tend to follow the shape of a capital F. They'll probably see notice what's at the top of the page, in the column at the right for the top part of the page, and what's in the main and left columns.
Sidebars on the top right of the page are thus a useful place for calls to action or other important information that you want readers to see.
Images and contrasting colors for calls to action help draw the eyes. Use them to guide your readers through your page.
How to write web page content
First, know the answers to these questions:
- What is your goal for the web page?
- Who is your target audience?
- What problems are they trying to solve?
- What motivates them?
If your goal is to sell something, everything should work toward that goal in some way. For example, your About page should provide enough information to give readers confidence in your company or organization. A product description page should include the benefits of your product and how it solves a problem.
Is your target audience motivated by the desire to save money? To avoid loss? To help others? Use that information as you write, along with other information you have about your target audience. Age, gender, and other factors may influence your writing style.
Web page content and keywords
Writing for an online audience typically includes writing for search engines. Research relevant keywords before you write, and include keyword phrases in the web page content. Key places to include them — to help both people and search engines — are in the title, in subheads, near the top of the page, and in bulleted lists.
Write for people first, though. A page with keywords crammed in for the benefit of search engines may get the page to rank the page well for a short time. Or it may cause the page to be blacklisted from search results for keyword stuffing. If your writing isn't useful for your human audience, it isn't useful to search engine bots either.