How to write brilliant web copy

I was delighted to be asked to cover the topic of ‘Why writing for the web is different’ in a recent webinar for Enterprise Nation members. If you’re a member and haven’t yet heard my advice about how you can write like a Web Editor then you can watch the presentation online now. Otherwise, here’s an overview of my advice to help you understand the key points of how to write highly effective web copy.

The Inverted Pyramid

Writing for the web is like writing like a journalist. A good first rule of thumb is The Inverted Pyramid.You need to start your page with the essential information; the who, what, where, why, when and how. The detail comes later down the page but the top is where you grab the reader’s attention. Also, remember your readers are free to go at any time so you’ve got to get your message across as clearly and concisely as possible.

It’s worth remembering not to take the shape and proportions of the pyramid too literally. Here’s a quick outline of things to keep in mind:

You haven’t got twice as much space in the first paragraph as the second. Your opener wants to be strong, rich in keywords to help your SEO and not overly long. Calls to Action can be anything from downloadable documents, to email addresses and link through to other pages in your website. You don’t want to think of these as being just squeezed in at the bottom of the page. Readers might not get that far so move them higher up if necessary and repeat links to them if there’s a chance readers won’t stick with the page to the very bottom.

The Iceberg Approach

If you need to say something then you absolutely must say it at the top of the page. Think of it as they do here, as the bait for the rest of the page content. The green arrows, also make it clear that the text needs to flow down the page naturally. Remember, search engines are interested in content that holds genuine content that hasn’t been duplicated elsewhere. Visitors to your website will appreciate that too.

Eye Tracking

These Sci-Fi looking head gadgets are for eye tracking, an electronic process that studies and records where a person’s gaze falls. They’ve been used extensively by website designers to understand how people engage with websites to help improve human/technology interactions. That’s why the theme you choose for your website needs to consider the design of it as much as how you use text to keep people reading.

Look at the two baby images. The same text and design have been used in both and the only difference is the position the baby is sitting in – on the left they look out to the reader, on the right their gaze goes up to the text. You can see by the red heat mapping on the left image that people spent far more time looking at that image compared to the text. When the baby appears to be looking at the text then that’s where the majority of the ‘heat’ goes.

Website userbility expert Jakob Neilson carried out extensive research through eye tracking to understand how we engage with websites. It revealed consistencies in how we read and highlighted the F-shape.

The F-shape

In theory, users will continue going down the page, almost bouncing from noticeable section to noticeable section until they get to the bottom of the page. In reality you can see they peter out towards the bottom and that’s why your content at the top of the page is so important for getting your message across.

Tips to keep them reading

Apply these changes to your website and bear in mind that academic research that used eye tracking to help identify three types on online reader:

  • the Reader – examines the text carefully
  • the Scanner – just skims over the text
  • the Navigator – doesn’t read at all and skips text for contextual markers

Remember, you haven’t got long to engage your readers so now take these tips and pair them up with what you know of your own audience and sector to make your written content as strong as possible.