Every day, we’re surrounded by words: From bus stop ads to restaurant menus, technical documentation and birthday cards, the words we read influence the way we see the people, places, and events we encounter. Nowhere, though, are words more important than on the internet.
Every website, every news article, every tweet you read online is made up of… well… words. Quality design and code are integral to creating successful digital experiences, but without words, digital experiences are meaningless, floating in digital purgatory with no way to communicate information.
Today, we’ll look at three things you can do to effectively engage your audience when writing for the web.
Keep it Simple
Hemingway fans rejoice—when writing for the web, simple language is always best. Concise language allows you to communicate with the largest possible group of readers, ensuring that your message gets through loud and clear.
There are a few different ways to evaluate your web copy’s readability, but the most understandable measure of readability is the Flesh-Kincaid Reading Ease Score.
There’s a daunting formula behind it, but the output makes more sense than you might think: By parsing through your text and looking at the number of words per sentence, the number of syllables per word, and several other factors, free tools like this one will spit out a Flesh-Kincaid score between 0 and 100. The closer your score is to 100, the easier it is to read.
Ideally, your content should score an 80 or higher, meaning people with a 6th-grade education can easily understand you. This score may be out of reach for content creators in more specialized fields, but it’s always a good idea to use simple language to keep your writing accessible, even if you’re writing for a professional audience.
Write for Everyone
Accessibility is one of the most important things to keep in mind when writing for the web. After all, how can you create a good digital experience if part of your audience can’t even understand you?
Follow these guidelines to keep your writing accessible to the broadest possible audience:
1. Always Use Alt Text
Alt text (alternative text) communicates an image’s content to users who may be visually impaired. When they encounter an image with alt text on your page, screen readers will read this text to describe your media content.
Don’t take alt text as an opportunity to stuff keywords into your page: This content needs to be helpful to impaired users, and Google has recently started punishing content creators who use their alt text to stuff keywords.
You don’t need to write alt text for every single image on your website, though—only contextual images, or images that support the content on the page, need alt text. Purely decorative images, like banners, don’t can be given empty alt text so they’re not read aloud.
2. Establish a Content Hierarchy
If you’ve used a word processor (or a WYSIWYG text editor) before, you’ve probably used section headings. These are things like heading 1 (h1), heading 2 (h2), etc., and they help keep your content organized. On the web, section headings are for more than just readability, though: Proper use of headings allows search engines to crawl your site more easily, potentially boosting your SEO ranking.
When using headings for web content, it’s important that you go in order: Jumping from an h1 to an h3 with no h2 in between is a bad user experience for your readers, and it confuses those ever-so-sensitive search engine crawlers.
3. Write Descriptive Links
Descriptive links give your reader more context about where that link will take them. For example, let’s say you read a sentence that looks like this:
Click here for more information.
Sighted users see this link in the context of your other content, buttons, and images, so they may be able to discern where this link will take them. However,a visually impaired user utilizing a screen reader will have more trouble getting anything out of either the sentence or the link itself.
On the other hand, a sentence like this is descriptive:
The link text gives context about where the user will be taken if they click it, and visually impaired users are better able to understand the link in the context of the rest of your page content.
Give Intuitive Instructions
Writing intuitive instructions is far more important for a great digital experience than you might think. Well-written instructions guide users where they need to go, whether they’re resetting a password or checking out products on an e-commerce website. If those instructions are hard to follow or don’t make sense, your users will get lost and may abandon your site entirely, hurting your conversion rate and, potentially, your overall site health.
Below is a brief checklist to use while writing instructional copy. Keep these things in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to writing better instructional copy.
Instructional Copy Checklist:
Are my sentences short and easy to read?
Are my instructions arranged in the most logical order possible?
Are my statements specific?
Am I using the active voice for each step?
Did I avoid confusing jargon wherever possible?
Did I put the most important information at the beginning of the sentence?
If necessary, did I provide examples to support any of my instructional statements?
Does each step focus on a single instruction?
Are my instructions written in the imperative mood?
If you can answer “yes” to each of the questions above, your content is ready for publication!
Clearer Content = Happier Customers
Whether you’re a SaaS provider looking to attract new subscribers or a burgeoning D2C brand trying to establish an audience, investing in great content is a surefire way to set yourself up for success. Writing effective content takes practice, so here’s our final tip: Get writing!