Internet is continuously evolving and hence the habits of website readers. At this point of time, most website visitors are scanners. If web content writers fail to recognize that website visitors are scanners, they will consistently produce copies that fail in its purpose.
Writing for print is a linear process.
Its form is dictated by the format – the printed page. Readers come to the printed page searching for information. We tend to start at the top, scan the page in a clockwise fashion and then begin reading anything that catches our attention – usually moving from top to bottom.
Some readers look for in-depth reading similar to what they would find in a book – writing that leads them on an author-guided journey from hypothesis to conclusion in something of a straightforward line. In-depth readers, though, are a distinct minority on the Internet.
Unfortunately, people rarely read web pages word by word according to a study by Nielsen Norman Group. Seventy nine percent of their test users only scanned each new page looking for something to catch their eye rather than reading the text word by word from top to bottom.
Writing for the typical web-user is a multi-linear process.
Its form is also dictated by the format – the website. These readers come to the Internet looking for information too. Web visitors; however, tend to scan web pages looking for pockets of information. We have become used to looking for areas with hyperlinks and rich text and jumping straight there.
Often website visitors only remain a few seconds on a page, clicking on a link or moving to a place on the page with content they are interested in. Click through are the rule rather than the exception.
In the days of newspapers, readers tended to be drawn to information “above the fold” and at the top of the page. The farther down the page and the farther into the article you went, the less likely the reader was to get that far. That type of writing was of necessity structured so that the most important stuff came first and less important stuff came last. Theoretically, you can clip off the writing at any point and you would still have a readable article.
A new generation of web readers, however, comes to the web looking for a different type of information experience. Lewis Carroll’s classic novel, Alice in Wonderland, anticipated this sort of down-the-rabbit hole experience that is a feature of much web-writing and site design these days. These readers look for information “holes” down which they can travel, harvesting bits of data willy-nilly along the way as it catches their eye.
Social media like Facebook are perfect examples of the rabbit hole experience common to web sites. Designed to facilitate exploration, Facebook walls offer an array of posts, long, short, crisp and complex. Notice which types of posts draw the most attention and comments. Less like reading a book, the rabbit hole web-reading experience is more like rummaging around in an encyclopedia or library.
Surfing the web is a freewheeling exploration bouncing all over the page, riding waves of information wherever they go. The site visitor clicks on buttons and tabs and shoots off to sidebars going wherever something catches their interest. Writing for this type of reader is altogether different from writing for traditional author-guided print publishing.
This type of writing, of necessity, must be crisp, brief, catchy and information-packed.
If tempted to go off on a tangent, the author may do so, but the new information is put on another page hyperlinked from the original landing site copy. It is more like writing dust jacket blurbs. Each piece of web writing is laser-focused on a single point. Any related point gets hyperlinked and, if you follow the hyperlink, you come to another laser-focused point.
Websites like Shopify, an ecommerce store builder, uses discreet short bits of web copy. The website sticks to one sales pitch. Each textual element has its own headline and makes a focused point in favor of creating an online store. The language is conversational, familiar and comfortable. Sentences are crisp, clean and clear. The page includes all you need to run your store.
Points to Remember When Writing for Web Readers
Some things you need to remember when writing for web readers include:
- Keep the language clear and simple. Stay away from long, unfamiliar words, jargon, complex sentence structures and active verbs rather than passive ones.
- Front-load your text. Put the conclusion first; then make the argument. If you hide the best stuff until last on the web, your reader may never get to it and flit off somewhere else.
- Limit paragraphs to just one idea so the reader can scan quickly.
- Use sub heading, bold and link text to highlight ideas and to make scanning easier.
- Use bullet points, list and numbered steps to make text more succinct and easier to scan.
- Align your text to the left. Justified, centered and right aligned text is harder to read and easier to skip.
Remember you are writing to catch a moving eye. Your writing had better be good or busy readers will skipped over.
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