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Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight: Writing for the Web

Excellent web copy is one of the most important aspects of any business. The words on your website shape how followers and prospects view your organization, your brand, and what you bring to your target audiences. Writing to incite engagement (a click, a video view, etc.) is key, but there are several general writing tips to keep in mind as you attempt to move people to consume and share your content.

Less is more

The first is to keep it concise. It’s important to remember that online readers might not always have the time to scour an entire website for the staple information they seek. If they’re looking for only one or two critical pieces, give it to them straight. Readers look at your content on desktops, iPads, and various mobile devices, with different viewing capabilities on each. They’re on public transit, eating dinner, at work, etc. – anywhere you can imagine; that’s where they read. Keeping web copy concise, efficient, and clear enables easy reading and quicker access to key information.

One simple tactic we utilize to achieve this method is writing the way we speak. Conversational writing is a popular tactic for consumer sites but it easily can be applied – and typically is recommended – for other businesses including health systems and health services. It’s imperative to keep in mind that this relatable style doesn’t mean companies are required to “dumb down” content for their audience.

In fact, that is one of the impediments many companies must overcome: the assumption that their audience might not understand complex ideas. Regardless of the complexity of a topic or business, it can be explained using conversational writing – leveling with your reader and getting to the heart of a topic. This doesn’t mean providing every single detail of a story or thought, but it does mean knowing what you want to say so well that you can tighten it and get to the main idea with ease and articulation. The conversational style enables you to converse and explain your services in a human voice, as if you were face-to-face with your reader, using a universal tone relatable to any literacy level.

Remember: It’s a numbers game

Another tactic is to cut down the word count. Concision starts with length. Try cutting out 50 percent of your writing. Difficult, right? In this abbreviated world of Twitter and news-by-status-updates, we must be aware that our attention spans are lower than ever before. There is a time and place for captivating, long-form articles, but that place is not a website home page. Simple sentence structure and shorter paragraphs can appear less dense and more enticing to anyone, with any level of time, who might be visiting the site.

Think about where, not just what

The least obvious consideration in web writing may be content layout. This includes useful images, credible, linked sources, and easy access to information. Consider the inverted pyramid principle of journalism – the most important information is front and center. While you want to keep readers’ attention for the entire page, this isn’t the right place to bury the lead. Web copy should be fresh, up-to-date, and provide the details your readers want.

Make the relationship

We’ve saved the best for last. Consider connection. You’re halfway there by making conversation with your reader, but businesses still need to go one step further and not only portray themselves as special, but also the people reading. Referring to “customers” or “prospects” is to refer to a third-party group that is not inclusive of the reader. Not often enough do businesses truly consider the emotional appeal they’re making to their audience. Human nature dictates that we like to be spoken to directly (think of it as the content equivalent to eye contact). The information is what readers want, but the human connection is what can make them stay.

Writing for the web is an animal of its own stripes, and the most successful sites are the ones willing to strip down and show those stripes in their full glory. Be direct, be unique, and above all, be honest. There is beauty in the simplicity of seeing your readers not as prospects, but as individuals. Empathy and human connection go a long way in making web copy go from aloof to engaging, and at the end of the day, it’s all about trust. Deliver what your readers are looking for and they will have confidence in your brand.

May 12, 2017
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