Daily Archives: June 17, 2014

How to Write Copy

After several weeks of guidance about copy, today I finish this section with a few things you can do to improve your writing.

Remember, on websites people have a shorter attention span than they do for print.  They tend to scan the page, so anything that helps them is helpful, eg subheadings, bullets and numbered lists, short paragraphs and short sentences. Loads of subordinate clauses are generally not a good idea.  Consider how you can:

  • minimise distractions on the page, eg reduce complicated background images and patterns. Usually a plain background or gentle gradient is all you need. Avoid things like sliders that present changing images; you’re presenting more than one theme on the page.
  • talk to the visitor. Use “you” rather than “we”. I find this is really helpful. Lots of sentences with “I” or “we” mean I’m talking features and not benefits. Copy needs to be relevant to the visitor.  Your avatar(s) will help you do this.
  • make sure your text is readable. It should be black on a white background in a clear font of a reasonable size. It is incredible the number of sites that ignore this basic guideline. Sometimes it is carelessness. Other times it is trying to be different or groovy or something. If it is difficult to read your visitors will not read it.
  • recognise some of your visitors may use screen readers. So, include alt text in all your images. Also be careful with tables. Use them sparingly, eg for statistical information, but remember it is hard to follow them using a screen reader. Never merge rows or columns, as this can derail screen readers so that they miss information.
  • use diagrams or other images. They can be a problem for screen readers but you can include a long text description for complex diagrams. It is about balancing the pros and cons. A good diagram might help most readers and seriously disadvantage a screen reader user. So, it is always worth considering an alternative (either in the sense of substituting something else or providing something alongside). There are several standards for accessibility, dependent upon how important accessibility is to your organisation.
  • use video and audio as an alternative to text. If you have a lot of text, an audio version could be played as the visitor reads the text. Assuming the copy is interesting this may help some people follow it to the end.
  • test your copy, once you are getting visitors to your site. This is a topic I shall explore in detail in later.

Have you any practices that improve your site’s readability?