The 4 essential web writing tips

Paul Boag

A website without words would be like Jonathon Ross – entirely pointless and a total waste of money. So it’s crucial to get those words right.

Here are the 4 most important tips for writing good web copy.

1. Write and edit specifically for the web

Don’t lift text off a printed brochure and stick it straight on a website, especially if it’s meaningless. We call this McContent because it fills a space but ultimately doesn’t give you anything except a vague sense of unpleasantness.

Here’s an example from a holiday cottage company website:

Lose yourself. Find yourself. Discover who you are again.

I have no idea what that means, or if I need to bring towels. A better sentence might tell me why the place is so relaxing – it’s in a National Park and has a spa, if you’re interested.

How to do this: As a general rule, cut the copy in half and get rid of anything you don’t understand.

2. Break it up

Look at The Sun. It has a reading age of 12, which is what you usually need to aim for on a website. The sentences and paragraphs are short. Subheadings are used a lot. They avoid any long or difficult words (an exception being this recent headline: ‘Sex with Jordan? That is out of the equestrian.’).

How to do this: Have a look at your copy and see where you can break it. Where can you start a new sentence? Could you split that paragraph into two? Could you substitute a shorter word?

3. Try to make your copy about the reader

I think this is quite hard, because my own thoughts and opinions are so much more interesting than anyone else’s. I’m proving this point in these sentences, talking about me instead of you. A better way of putting it would be:

You might find it difficult to talk about others, instead of yourself. Your thoughts and opinions are so much more interesting than anyone else’s.

How to do this: Use the We-We monitor to see much you ramble on about yourself, and how much you talk about your customer. Then turn your ‘me’ sentences into ‘you’ sentences.

4. Relax

Chill out. Being informal is fine on the web. It’s actually easier for your reader to extract the information they need from informal copy.

Here’s copy from the O2 website:

We provide mobile, fixed and broadband services in the UK…. [blah blah] … customers know us as O2.

Compare it with this from Virgin Mobile:

As a Virgin Mobile customer, you’re entitled to a whole list of privileges and special treatment that your mates would give their right arm for.

How to do this: When you write, imagine you’re chatting to your best mate’s mum or your favourite uncle. You have to be polite still, but you don’t have to talk like a government policy statement.