How to Write for Websites: Cater To Lazy Readers
Great web writing is Mr. Snappy
One of the first tenants in establishing how to write for websites is to keep it short and simple. Apple does this really well. Look at their home page, I challenge you to find a sentence of more than 4 or 5 words. That’s snappy. Naturally, most websites need to use more than a few words at a time, but the same rules apply. Headers should be summarize the section in as few words as possible. Keep paragraphs 2-3 sentences. Only one thought per paragraph.
Most importantly, a reader should get 70% of the information they need for a section by its header - further reading should only round out the details. Think of it like a short poem with footnotes. You can read the footnotes for more clarity if you want, but the important ideas are found in the lines (i.e. the headers).
Something I always do is simply read only my headers as quickly as possible to decide if they communicate the main ideas of the webpage or blog article. Headers should always flow together and capture the gist of the page’s content.
Write for websites means writing like an inverted pyramid
Just like it sounds. In school we are taught to write in the following order: Introduction (i.e. connection between world and content) -> supporting details -> Conclusion. It'c called the writing pyramid. Work your way to more specific horizons as you go on up.
Web writing is basically the opposite. Website ideas are best presented in the following order: Conclusion -> Details -> Connection between the content and larger world. This is because 21st century readers are really only interested in the point. Point by point by point, and maybe if something looks especially tantalizing, some details. Start with the sharpest details that hit with a punch, and then get on with all the rest of the rubbish.
It's an entirely different style from anything else. Like a series of Facebook wall posts with optional "further details" for each post.
Good web writing replaces style with frankness
Web writing is not what you learned in school. It's not what you learn reading books or in the newspaper. Quality web writing is less about your style that it about your ability to be creatively direct. In other words, don't beat around the bush, mince words, or try and be subtle.
Get to the point. And quickly. You nor I care about all of the "illuminating" and "deep" points someone has to make on the web. When I read a blog post or a web page that is trying to be "crafty", it's pretty much a good excuse to look elsewhere. Don't get me wrong, I love reading and always have a novel in my satchel and on my night stand. But neither you nor I are trying to do any serious reading on the web.
We are looking for specific information. Most of us don't particularly "like" reading on an LED screen. And for these reasons and so many others, web writing needs to be frank and not waste readers time. Whi9ch is kind of lazy,
Website writing needs white space (text is a loaded gun)
This is something I continue to struggle with. When I'm not working I spend quite a bit of time writing fiction: working on my novel, or short fiction publications. In other words, lots of text. Not all that uncommonly I write a draft, show it to a co-worker and see their look of disgust:
Look at all that text.
Text scares people away on the web. Almost all readers who jump onto a text heavy page will take one look, realize they did not sign up for heavy reading, and quickly tab the back button. Yes, I do it. And so do you. Nothing to be ashamed of.
Effective web writing is as much about not writing as it is writing. Use your whitespace. Lots of it. Space between lines. Space between paragraphs. Frequent headers. Headers with larger line height than regular lines. Images and media. Whitespace encourages all of the best practices for web writing: Helps and even encourages scanning; forces your content ideas to be to the point; looks clean.
Using whitespace also means having the right content that will highlight the appropriate text.