We’ve treated this topic numerous times, both in this blog and in white papers available on our website. But it’s been awhile; and because it’s such a frequently-encountered and important issue, we felt that a recent post by Tim Ash on ClickZ provided occasion for an update.
It all starts from the attributes of visitors to your website, who…
- are purpose-driven, with limited time
- are used to tuning out overtly promotional content
- do not read your copy word for word, but scan rapidly, pausing on selected words or sentences …as a vast amount of research has established
Writing for this audience requires adapting to those characteristics, and Tim suggests dividing that task into three main areas of focus.
There’s a best way to structure your content, and Tim calls it “the inverted pyramid”; we’ve called it “PowerPoint presentation” form. Whatever you call it, the idea is to get your main or summary points out up top, and place supporting logic lower on the page or on subsidiary pages (behind “more” links).
In designing a presentation, you aim your main flow of slides at a level you think will be grasped by your “average” audience member. When delivering it, if you see that some folks didn’t “get it” or there is further interest on a particular point, you pull up the backup slides that you had cleverly prepared for just that situation. And that sort of structure can be nested as deep as necessary.
As applied to Web pages, this structure lets the visitor cruise at his/her maximum speed, while still being able to drill down for additional info where desired or needed. Since most readers will choose not to read very far, by writing in this way you maximize the chances that they will come away with the information that you consider most valuable. This also helps you to keep your pages short …which is good because there’s evidence showing that shorter text results in higher retention and recall, and is more likely to lead to conversion behavior.
Some further suggestions about structure:
- use clear and prominent page titles to tell them why each page is important
- make sure that you only have one main idea per paragraph
- follow the inverted pyramid approach when creating bulleted lists or lists of links – put the important ones on top
First off, you want to avoid what Tim calls “marketese”: you know, the stuff of most brochures, featuring an over-the-top promotional style with a lot of boasting and unsubstantiated claims. All this does is create work for the reader, forcing him/her to spend time separating the real information from the fluff.
To achieve this, Tim suggests…
- avoiding adjectives as much as is humanly possible
- providing only objective information
- focusing on the needs of your visitors
Your editorial tone should have these additional attributes:
- Task-oriented – organize your text in the order that the visitor is likely to need it, so as to move your visitors toward/through the conversion action.
- Precise – be careful about your exact choice of words. Never try to be funny or clever; do not use puns, metaphors, or colloquial expressions.
- Concise – brevity increases absorption and recall of information, while minimizing the likelihood of frustration and impatience …and hence early exits.
Recalling that your visitors will be scanning, not reading… here are some of Tim’s suggestions for crafting your copy to support that behavior:
- Write in fragments or short sentences; don’t worry about grammatical correctness if you’ve made yourself clear.
- Highlight important points …not entire sentences, just key phrases.
- Use clear, emphasized titles for page headings and important subheads.
- Use active voice and action verbs; use bulleted lists instead of paragraphs.
- Keep lists between three and seven items (the limit of human short-term memory); keep headings and lists to no more than two levels.
By getting your writing out of your visitors’ way, you empower them to be faster, more efficient and more effective. This will result in higher conversion rates for you, and higher satisfaction for them.