If you haven’t noticed, the Internet is a loud and crowded space. Without the right approach, getting your customers attention can be like walking into a packed out room and whispering to someone across the way. In fact, the last time I checked, there are more than 1.5 billion websites on the world wide web. Google processes over 40,000 searches every second, which adds up to 3.5 billion searches per day. Shouting louder to get your reader’s attention isn’t going to work.
But flagging down the attention of your readers isn’t your only challenge. According to HubSpot, you have just 15 seconds to capture their attention. This means “time on site” and not just “page views” should be the ultimate metric to evaluate your website.
Good website writing is the proven strategy not only attract the attention of your customers, but keep them engaged with your site. Well-written content that is optimized for the web (often referred to as SEO) rises to the top of search results and holds readers’ attention.
If you want your website to stand out from the drone of noise, and engage your readers, follow these practices.
This is one of the most obvious rules for quality website writing, but it often goes overlooked. Before you publish your first blog post or draft your services page, stop and think:
Without an audience in mind, you will end up writing generic content that does not connect with anyone, proving to be of no real value. Your text could be exceptionally well written, but if it is not written with your intended audience in mind, how will they find it?
To write excellent web content, you need to think like your reader. What would they type in the Google search bar as hunt down the information they need? Once you define that, you can begin to craft content that will more regularly connect with your audience and keep their attention.
Like it or not, reading on the web has conditioned us to browse with short attention spans. Your readers will judge the value of your entire site within a matter of seconds.
This means you must organize your content like an upside-down pyramid or a funnel. Put the most critical information at the top of the page and in the first sentence of each paragraph. The following sentences should be the supporting details that validate and explain your top-line content. Put the conclusion first, and the supporting reasoning to follow. More on this in a moment.
Have you ever put together a piece of furniture and ended up with leftover parts? Somewhat concerning, right? Your readers don’t want to wade through your writing, confused by the drawn-out sentences and leftover words. William Strunk has been the go-to source for writing help for years, and his advice certainly applies to website content:
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. – William Strunk, “Elements of Style”
Passivity has no place in good writing. If you have something to say, then say it. This means you must use active verbs rather than passive verbs and emphasize the subject of the sentence. For example, instead of writing, “The software was updated,” write, “Scott updated the software.” Instead of writing, “Products can be ordered on our website,” say, “You can order our products on our website.”
We might not put it into words, but our brains prefer active voice over passive voice. When you use the active voice, it creates crisp, reader-friendly sentences. This sort of writing is personal and more direct, and you end up speaking directly to your audience rather than some anonymous person.
Watch out for website content that is full of generalities and vague statements. When you use specific, real-world examples, your readers will better understand and connect with your message.
Consider the two value statements:
Which version gives you a better picture of the quality of the product? By using specific details that describe the quality rather than say that it is quality your readers are more likely to form the opinion that, “this is the best product I could buy.”
You see, by showing instead of telling, readers form their own opinion, having come to a conviction that is their own, rather than feeling like they are being marketed to by a salesperson. Showing vs. telling is like the Inception of content creation.
Every industry has jargon. Chances are if you are an expert in your particular field you use jargon every day and don’t even recognize it. Think of the acronyms common to your line of work. Think of the insider terms and policies unique to your business. Now cut them out.
Again, for your website to connect with your clients, you must speak like your clients. Are they likely to ask for the CAGR as it relates to their B2B forecasting models? If not, then say, “We can help you understand your compound annual growth rate as you consider your future business plans.”
Speak the real language of your customers, using their words, not yours.
Along with putting the most critical information first, make sure your text is easy to skim. Yes, it can be somewhat disheartening to think that readers are not going to pour over every word on your website, but the fact remains: if they don’t find what they are looking for in a matter of seconds, they will move on.
Think about your own browsing habits. Remember the last time you visited a web page you had never seen before. Did you read each sentence, consuming every word from top to bottom? Not likely. Typically, our eyes bounce from paragraph to paragraph, looking for the information we want.
When your readers visit your webpage for the first time, they will scan through it. So why not make it easier for them to get a sense of what the page is about?
No page should stand alone, it is a WEBpage for crying out loud! The whole reason the internet is so useful lies within the ability to link pages together, creating layers of information.
One of the most helpful things you can do for your readers is layering your site by linking to other pages, helping direct your readers from one page to another. This will help keep your readers engaged with your content and serve them with relevant information as they move through your website.
Building out these internal links will also help your SEO, but don’t go link crazy! Keep all links relevant and on-topic. Think of any linkable content as a request to lead your reader to another room in a building. Is it really going to be worth their effort to walk all the way over there and have a look around?
Always aim to help your reader, not just boost your own SEO.
If you have done all the hard work of providing useful content with active words that are free of jargon and full of helpful links, don’t just leave your reader standing alone on the dance floor. Why not leave them with a lovely parting gift?
Each of these examples is what is known as a ”call to action.” Every page should have some form of a call to action. Now don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t need to be a “buy the product now!” kind of call, it could be more low-key. Just don’t leave the reader hanging. Give them something to leave with.
Good writing is hard work, it can even seem painful. Anyone who says differently is selling something. That means there are no shortcuts to building out a quality website. Shortcuts and internet scams might boost your traffic for a time, but they will never deliver the quality content that will connect you with engaged readers and paying customers.
Make the internet a better place by building better content. And if you don’t know where to start, I may know a guy.