Twelve billion web pages… and most of them talking about themselves, saying nothing that’s easy to understand in a blink…
It’s not unlike Alice in Wonderland, it can be anything you want it to be. I’m reading a good book called Letting Go of the Words, by Ginny Redish.
This is a really good book for anyone charged with writing on the Web. In fact, it’s a must-read for anyone with a website or blog. If you’re a fan of usability and you’d like to improve your site’s performance with better writing, definitely get this book.
Here’s what two really smart people who know the web well say about this book:
“…the book meets a major, previously unmet need of a very large audience: almost everyone who works on a web site. As Ginny points out, good writing is a critical success factor for every web site, and the really good book about how to write for the web just doesn’t exist. Personally, I’ve been waiting for it for years, because I didn’t want to write it myself.” — Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think!
“Redish has done her homework and created a thorough overview of the issues in writing for the Web. Ironically, I must recommend that you read her every word so that you can find out why your customers won’t read very many words on your website — and what to do about it.” –Jakob Nielsen, Principal, Nielsen Norman Group
Top 10 Web Writing Tips
Even though Redish makes a big point that on the Web people are skimmers and scanners and most people won’t read every word, she does give excellent advice in Chapter 8 called Tuning Up Your Sentences. Here are 10 writing tips that I whole-heartedly endorse:
- Talk to your site visitors, use “you…”
- Show that you are a person and that your organization includes people (even if you’re in a mega-corporation, people do business with other people, so get personal, get real)
- Write in the active voice most of the time
- Write simple, short, straightforward sentences
- Cut out all unnecessary words
- Give extra information its own place (another page? a footnote?)
- Keep paragraphs short (really short, like no more than 2 long sentence or 3 short ones, or less because it’s easier to read)
- Start with the context – first things first, second things second
- Put the action in the verbs, not the nouns
- Use your web users’ words (write like they talk)
I’d add a few more things to this like start with a question and end with a question and always start from the readers point of view, what would he or she want most to know? Obviously, this requires some knowledge about your target audience, your ideal clients and customers.
People + Content = Content Marketing
There’s a whole chapter on people and the first chapter is all about content. There are plenty of studies to show that people visit to get information in a hurry, and they spend 2 minutes or less on a page.
Good web writing is like a conversation. Your content should quickly answer people’s questions and let them get on with their lives.
This is the first book I’ve seen that doesn’t address writing on the web solely from a marketing or sales point of view. This book is good at addressing all the issues.
Just the other day I was reviewing a website for a successful professional who does consulting with mid-level corporations. His site was extremely tasteful and attractive, conveying an aura of professionalism and seriousness. This is a good thing if you want to impress high-level executives in the C-suites.
But there were a couple things missing that could make the difference in a CEO or CFO or HR VP picking up the phone or not: the focus of the home page and the other pages was on the consulting firm and not:
- What benefits they provided to companies and the people within them
- There was nothing about the problems that their clients experience and the solutions they sought
- There were no case studies or stories from successful clients
- There was no profile of the consultant with his picture and story
There was a very attractive Flash banner with revolving pictures, which was somewhat mesmerizing, only it showed pictures of expensive offices without any people… the resulting impression was curious, like it would have been better suited for a furniture design site.
The human element is important, even when you’re trying to appeal to serious organizations with highly educated executives. Personality counts. This professional was trying to put his best foot forward but was actually hiding behind corporate formality.
Which isn’t to say he should go to the opposite extreme. But if your web pages aren’t presenting the authentic you, then you’re missing a great opportunity to use the Web to connect with other people on a global level.
Even though this professional was extremely outgoing and personable, his site did nothing to showcase him. It would be like a Ferrari dealer talking to you about their cars without showing you a picture of one.
When’s the last time you took a look at your web pages with an outsider’s eye? I am available for blog and web reviews, just ask me to help you see what you can’t see yourself.