Writing for the web

Why user-focused content is imperative

  • Web users are skimming and scanning. Reading is functional, not leisurely.
  • Users often visit websites when reading is difficult, such as on mobile devices with small screens, in crowds or public places, or in environments with many distractions (e.g., searching for an address while standing on the street, reading with kids at home, etc.).
  • Content must start and end with users’ interests and questions in mind.

How to have a conversation with users

The target audience for the AHS website is prospective students. (Target audiences for Inside AHS are current students and faculty.)

For each piece of content, ask:

  • Why am I including this content?
    • What do you want your site visitors to do, think or feel?
    • Be specific about your purpose. “I’m writing this so that [who?] will [do/think/feel what?]”
  • Who am I addressing?
    • Imagine your users and anticipate their questions to help you focus on what’s important to them. Why did they come to our site? What do they want to know? What kind of vocabulary do they use?

Summary-first structure

writingforthewebStructure your content so that users can find the answers to their questions quickly. Summarize the essential information first, then reveal the details that support it.

Think of this as offering the user a bite, snack or meal.

  • Bite: A headline, link or both plus a very brief description
  • Snack: Key message or brief summary
  • Meal: The details

Not everyone will want the “meal.” In fact, most people will just need a bite.

Start with the “punch line.” Let the first few sentences on each page answer the question users have when visiting that particular page.

Also, when the first few sentences on the page contain most of the relevant keywords, you boost your SEO, or search engine optimization. In other words, it helps search engines find your page and return it as a top hit when people search for terms related to your content.

Other general guidelines

  • Write for your audience. What do your primary site visitors want and need to know?
  • Be concise. Say everything that needs to be said. Say no more.
  • Avoid jargon, abbreviations and acronyms. Though we want efficiency, you should assume most users are newcomers to your content.
  • Start with your key message. Don’t spend prime space on a summary or a greeting.
  • Structure for scanning. Use bulleted lists and descriptive headings to break up walls of text. Not only do these add visible structure for readers, but they also aid in search results and accessibility for users with different abilities.
  • Ask reviewers what the content said. Don’t ask if they liked it.