A guide to writing text for your website

29/01/2010

Do you want to find out how to write content for your website? Our team go through a few tips and tricks to help you through the process…

Why should I worry about what text is on my website?

Writing text for websites is often an area of web design that is overlooked at the start of a website project. It is though, perhaps as important, if not more important, than the website design. If, for example, you have a brilliantly designed website but it contained little textual content that was not relevant to a visitor – the chances are that that visitor will not stick around to simply admire the design. “Content is king” is the saying – and so it is. Add great, well written text, to a well designed website and you are destined for success.

If the budget is available we would always recommend going to a professional copywriter – this is not always possible and so many of our clients opt to write the content themselves. This makes alot of sense from a budgeting point of view and also has other benefits because you will always know your target audience and business better than a third party ever will.

So – what is the best way to write content for your website? How do you start and what sort of things should you be thinking about as you go through the process. Also what format should this content be supplied to your designers in? These and more questions are answered in this article…

Where to start

From a branding perspective it might be best to start from the point of view of how you wish to be perceived by your target audience. If your company was a person, how would they speak? Would they be to the point and ‘businesslike’ – or maybe more friendly and jargon free? Setting the right “tone of voice” and writing style for your website should fit in with your overall brand message and placement. Maybe have a look at other companies’ websites which are trying to attract similar markets to see how they are presenting themselves in their web text.

If you are working with a design company such as Attitude Design, you will normally have a “site map” developed for you. This should be a diagram showing all the pages on your website and how they interact with each other.

Before getting into the nitty gritty it might be best to sit down with the site map and to decide what the purpose and function of each page is. Most pages will fall into the following categories:

  • Information giving
  • Selling
  • Signing up / Applying / Enquiring

Each of these pages have different purposes and require different types of writing to fulfill those purposes. Each of these pages may also have different messages which your text will need to support. Have a think about each of your pages in the light of their purpose and maybe mark on your site map your general ideas so that when you get started with the text for that page you have an overall idea of where you are headed.

Humans vs Robots

Most of us are used to writing for humans in emails, letters, text messages etc. Websites, however, are not only visited by humans. There are search engines which have little programs (tenderly called “spiders” or “robots”) which will vist your site and collect the data they find there. They will store this data in the search engine’s database so that when someone searches for keywords, your site’s data will be considered in their algorithms. Depending on how your site does in the algorithm you will appear higher or lower in the organic rankings.

Appearing high in search engines is a powerful marketing tool. You can reach audiences of thousands who are all looking for your product or service so it’s worth writing the content for your website in a way search engine robots can read it and use it.

Writing for Humans


Writing content on websites is very different from writing to people you know. For example if you write an email to a friend or colleague, it is likely they will read every word you put down. This is not the case with websites. People “skim read”. If they are not engaged within a few seconds they will move away from your site to find a site which is relevant to what they are searching for.

Jacob Neilsen, a usability expert has a few articles based upon some in depth research as to how users read the content of web pages. It’s worth going through them to get a better understanding of exactly how website users read text:

So how do we write content on our websites which is most likely to get a result? Here are a few tips:

  • Use subheadings. Because users will skim read, it’s a good idea to use subheadings so that they can find relevant content quickly.
  • Be concise. Use bullet points, clear and simple language which is not long winded. Do not use slang, or technical jargon unless necessary. Try to include one concept per sentence.
  • Front-load content. This means that you put the conclusion for what you are trying to say first. This helps users get a jist of what is on the page and hopefully it will capture their imagination. There is nothing worse then reading a few paragraphs and realizing the page you are on is completely irrelevant.
  • Make sure it’s interesting. Ensure the text is relevant and doesn’t go “around the houses” to get to the point. Write in an interesting way which will engage your audience.

Writing for Robots


Web designers with any wits will ensure that they code your site in a way which is search engine friendly. There are things which will be “invisible” to humans which will need to be in place to be successful – for example the content of the various tags in your page’s source code (title tags, keyword tags, description tags etc.) These should be in place as default and ideally you should also be able to edit the content of these tags and the content that appears on the page website yourself.

If you have a knowledge of HTML code you will be able to do this by hand. Most people do not have the time to worry about learning this complex language but there are other ways to edit this type of content without knowledge of HMTL. You will need a system to be built to allow you to do this called a “Content Management System” (CMS). It is a good idea to have such a system running your website because monitoring how your website’s pages are performing in search engines is an on going process which may mean continual updating to the site over time.

When a robot visits your website, it will look at the visible text and links on your page. From the words it finds there, the search engine will decide what your page is about and index its findings in its database. When a user searches that database the search engine will then feed your page into relevant searches. But how does it decide what your page is about?

One way is by looking at key phrases. For example if you have a particular phrase (like “hard wearing mouse mats”) repeated many times on the page then you are more likely to appear on a search engine for that phrase.

There are many other factors and each search engine differs in its algorithms but for the sake of this article we will give you a few tips on creating content which will help you to get higher in the search rankings. We would of course recommend you speak to professional SEO experts who can research what phrases or words would be best to include on each page of your website, as well as other strategies and techniques you could employ to gain higher rankings. A few general tips:

  • Find a phrase. Consider what search engine users might type in as a search phrase/phrases to find the page.
  • Use the phrase in your content. Ensure this phrase is used in the headings and content of the page. It might be an idea to repeat the phrase several times throughout the copy as well as in the main heading and sub-headings of the page.
  • Use your meta tags. Add the phrases to your page title, description and keyword meta tags. You will need to do this through your CMS system or by coding the page with that information yourself.
  • Use links. Add links in the body of your site to other pages within your website. This will encourage the search engine robot to crawl through these other pages of the site.

Conclusion

So – we hope this guide has been helpful. It’s all about balance and being aware of the different types of visitors to your site. Don’t go overboard with writing for humans and neglect the search engine robots – likewise don’t just write for robots and forget the humans! Get the balance right and you’ll have a great website!

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Attitude Design

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Attitude Design

3 Responses to “A guide to writing text for your website”

  1. Nicola Connolly

    16th February 2010

    Nicely balanced article… It really is important for clients to think about the focus of each page of their website design before they write the content – or before they discuss it with their content writer or web designer. It’s interesting that you’ve raised the issue about the balance between human readers Vs robots – the priority I would suggest is to target the main headings and initial body text towards the search engines (since to gain customers interest/enquiries from your web design first requires that customers are able to find your website) and this is very closely followed by an aim to make sure that once they have landed on your homepage they are kept interested by vibrant content (images/flash/more engaging text etc.). Thoughts? Content certainly is key.

  2. Daniel Hills

    20th February 2010

    Thanks for the article – some really useful information here. The eye tracking research is especially interesting…

  3. Matt Davies Attitude Design

    24th February 2010

    Great point Nicola – yes headings are very important to have key phrases packed into them.

    We also came across this article today: http://www.alistapart.com/articles/content-templates-to-the-rescue/ – which is excellent…

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