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Writing Better Web Site Content

by John McKown, President of Delaware.net | August 30th, 2007 Leave a reply »

Every day I come to work knowing that I will be working on multiple projects. I can easily say that I have seen a multitude of different problems and solutions. One of the biggest visual problems that I encounter is content and the quality and/or the complete lack there of. The web is all about communication, and in a world where communication is everything, web content is key. Think about it, more and more people today are getting their news and information from news websites, blogs and search engines. So why shouldn’t the content of your website be created with the same attention to detail as more traditional forms of media.

“The content is the heart of the website. I can’t build you a body until you give me a heart.” (Simmons, 2007) This couldn’t be more true. The content of your website is the basis for the entire user experience. Without it, a website cannot be constructed properly. Content can’t just be a few paragraphs someone wrote at the last minute so that there is something in the website. It needs to carefully planned and written with the utmost care. “…if the words aren’t meaningful, the sleekest design in the world wont compensate for it.” (Simmons, 2007)

The problem with most of today’s websites is that they have been designed to be looked at rather than read. In the real world, how many of your customers want to visit your website purely for the fact that it has a great design? Not many. Your customers want to visit your website because they are looking for something. An answer to a question, a quote on a service or just some general information on a topic that they believe you are an authority on.

What can be done to aid in the writing of good quality web content, you ask? Well, first things first. Please do not ask your designer to write your content. Its like asking the construction worker who built the law office to write your legal documents. The reason is, its not what they are trained to do. A web designer should be good at layout, color and typography but you are the expert in your field. More than likely, you know more about what your are presenting than your designer does.

Next, keep in mind that the content of your website should enrich the user’s experience. It should be a well written narrative that draws the reader in, instead of some useless marketing fluff known as copy.

The dreaded copy. A distinction needs to be made between copy and content. Amber Simmons does it beautifully in an article written for A List Apart.

“…we all know copy when we read it: it’s the marketing fluff that serves no purpose but to take up space. It doublespeaks and obfuscates. It’s the inflated speech of the politician using many words to say nothing, the sales pitch of the greasy used-car cretin whose crafty euphemisms try to disguise the fact that his product sucks. Copy is recognized by its pervasive use of agonizing words such as “leverage,” “optimize,” and “facilitate,” or a litany of intolerable phrases such as “economically disadvantaged,” “heavyset,” “law enforcement officer,” and “ethnic community.” Writing like this is self-conscious and boring—what’s wrong with saying Marvin is a poor, fat cop from the ghetto?

(If you find yourself writing like this, by all means, use bullets and omit words. The less of this pain inflicted upon the reading public the better.)

Content, on the other hand, fills a real need: it establishes emotional connections between people. The writing has heart and spirit; it has something to say and the wherewithal to stand up and say it. Content is the stuff readers want to read, even if they have to print it to do so. (And readers will print a long piece; just because something is published online doesn’t mean it must be read online). Content is thoughtful, personable, and faithfully written. It hooks the reader and draws him in, encouraging him to click this link or that, to venture further into a website. It delivers what it promises and delights the attentive reader.”

Its obvious that sometimes general marketing copy is just something that has to be in the website. This is just merely a warning to keep this to a minimum.

The overall content of your website should be well written and concise. It should enrich the user’s experience. It has been said that your content should be short, offering the user something to just skim through. This is not true. If you have nothing of real importance in your website then maybe, but if you have good quality content that grabs at the user then there is no reason why you should limit your content.

“Great design reflects the way we interact, and the primary vehicle for that interaction remains text.” (Jones, 2007) If this holds any truth, then why not spend a little extra time planning and writing the content for your website. Your customers will appreciate it. Since your customers drive your business, don’t you owe it to them to offer rich, meaningful content?

References:
Better Writing Through Design, Bronwyn Jones. 2007
Reviving Anorexic Web Writing, Amber Simmons. 2007

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