A website is a quick, easy and relatively cheap way to reach thousands of potential clients.
Rich web content is what keeps those prospective clients coming back for more. Most people (75 per cent*) say that content quality is the most important factor governing whether they revisit a website (*Forrester Research).
Yet content readability is one of the most obvious â and most overlooked â aspects of website accessibility. No matter how good the design of your site, and no matter how many users it gets, both are irrelevant if visitors can’t or won’t follow the content.
Of course, websites for large organisations may have several different authors. So it’s easier to slip up on content readability: personal writing styles vary and can lead to confusing inconsistency. There may also be a mad dash to fill pages as soon as they are designed â without enough thought given to subject matter, layout, punctuation, grammar and, most importantly, your site visitor.
Good writing is not merely intuitive. Here are ten top tips on how to improve your site and ensure your content is king.
1. Start with the reader in mind. Ask yourself why they’re going to be visiting a page and what their likely thought process would be. Also, ask what things they wouldn’t be interested in.
2. Use plain English. Imagine a typical customer. What terms would they use? Imagine that you are speaking to them when you write. Read the content out loud if it helps â often it’s the process of writing that causes the problem.
3. Use the active voice, rather than the passive. So rather than saying an area ‘is being redeveloped’, say, ‘we are redeveloping’ it.
4. Structure your sentences logically, by putting the ‘what’ before the ‘why’. So don’t write: ‘If the company makes these changes now, it will immediately improve the service.’ Instead, write: ‘The company will immediately improve the service if it makes these changes now.’
5. Avoid over-long sentences. The best way to do this is to limit yourself to one idea per sentence. (This makes content much easier to write too.)
6. Use punctuation helpfully and accurately. Punctuation may seem like a small thing, but it can make a world of difference. For example, a local authority website recently left the apostrophe out of the following sentence: ‘Residents’ refuse to go in the bins’. The resulting meaning was probably not what the author intended.
7. Be direct. Use the word ‘you’ whenever you can, and address the site visitor directly, as one person. (For example, ‘You can find more information here.’)
8. Talk. If various colleagues provide written information for your website, set up a meeting and decide on a style guide to ensure consistency. For example: use the same subheads and titles; if you use specific abbreviations make sure you all work to the same format. Discuss work in progress as a team so as not to repeat content unnecessarily.
9. Proofread. Inaccuracies can easily be missed. Be sure to print out and proofread the content, as mistakes are much harder to spot on screen.
10. Links. Links can be extremely helpful if directing the site visitor to relevant information. But be careful not to splatter your web pages with links for the sake of it. This can alienate the site visitor from the content they actually require. You don’t want to send them hurtling into the www ether when they could be reading your site.