Writing for the web: Less is More

I’ve been asked this week if there’s some such being as a ‘web writer’ or a specialized copywriter for the web. My answer is yes and no.

Yes, because your average copywriter is usually very adept at writing for tv, radio, print etc and pretty much does more of the same when it comes to writing for web content – and ends up with a lot of words. Their craft is built on the the art of clever verbosity. And no, because, once you’ve figured out that usability on the web demands less and lesser, and the mantra is omission, not commission, than really, any one can write. Less that is. So no.

I know of a McCann big wig who claims that his success is based on his ability to write a clear, precise and meaningful brief in one a4 page. I buy that. That’s an art form right there. And, when it comes to writing for the web, it’s the same thing. We need to avoid writing to fill the page, to defy negative space. All those words, reams of it, there just to add to the volume. Not to the music.

Hope page and section header pages are the ones that are guilty of carrying excess loads as far as copy is concerned. I have had clients send back designs because they felt it ‘didn’t say much about who we are’ on the home page. I had thought that the ‘Who We Are’ page was meant for that. But, clients know best.

If it’s relevant to the page, if it adds value, keep it. As long as you keep it precise. I normally hate bullet points – they look great in powerpoint, but not in ad copy. But they work quite well in web writing. They make the point.

Eyeball tests have shown the average user spends less than five seconds on 100 words. Now, that’s not reading, that’s speedreading – that’s scanning. Picking up clues, sub-heads, bold text and the gist of it all on the way. And, if you keep organic Search in mind, it’s crucial to have all the right words in there without having to repeat thoughts or meander along the way to the main point being made.

A client emailed me to remind me that the copy on the site ‘should exactly follow the one on the brochure’. With word count at a premium on the site, I thought that right there was information design suicide. The brochure had large format pictures, beautiful visual support across an a4 page. Here I had around 400 pixels x first fold. Mistake. Sorry client.

The people who get web writing down pat are the ones at the editorial team for BBC news. Remembering that BBC started off as a radio channel, that’s not surprising at all, because, once you read your copy, you soon realize how much of it is blah blah blah. And cut down at least 60%.Try it. That’s how I do mine.

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