Writing Web Copy Is A Skill

Writing web copyWeb copy is different from print copy and other forms of writing because website users need to know fast both what it’s about and how to move on. Here are seven tips.

Remember why your visitors came to the page and give them what they want.

Get to the point. The first two or three words may be all a visitor bothers to read in the Title, the meta title, the meta description, the headlines, paragraphs, photo alt text, etc.

Give the facts. Don’t say how great your business is- prove it.

Be brief but add more. Make every word count but at the same time the extra space means you have the opportunity to add relevant links, photos and other useful information.

Make it scannable. Website visitors will probably only read a fifth of the page. Give them short sentences, short paragraphs, sub headings, bullet points, highlighted words, photo captions and anything else that will slow their eye down for a moment.

Tell their story. A story that will take them where they want to go.

Tone of voice, house style, corporate brand- call it what you will but it must be consistent. Informal is usually what visitors like best.

Check it. Many visitors will judge you on spelling mistakes, links that don’t work, missing words, clichés, jargon and grammatical howlers like an apostrophe in the wrong place.

A longer version of this is available here 7 Tips For Writing Web Copy

Icon Is Essential But What Does It Mean?

Menu IconI fell into the trap I always warn others about. I always say that usability is key to a good website, yet recently I created a website that was less user friendly than it could have been.

The culprit was the Hamburger icon that appeared on the mobile version. If you’re saying, ‘What is the Hamburger icon,?’ I’ve probably already made my point. This particular icon is three lines (which frankly only by a long stretch of the imagination looks like a burger in a bap) that are meant to symbolize a menu.

Because it’s used on loads of major mobile sites including Google, Facebook and BBC, I assumed everybody knew what the icon meant. I soon found out how wrong I was.

Icons Are Essential

Let me say upfront, icons are essential in website design. Even more so in mobile website design. For a start, they take up less space than text. And, on the matter of usability, once people know what an icon means, they have to think less, so they get where they want to be faster.

‘Know what they mean’ is the point. When icons first gained currency, many were literal. If you wanted to print, you saw a pictogram of a printer. You could probably work out what it meant.

However many functions take place in a digital space which we cannot perceive visually. So other icons were metaphors. If you wanted to delete a file, you saw an image from the physical world such as a waste paper basket or a trashcan. The Home Page was represented by a little house.

Microsoft and Apple used a desktop for metaphorical icons

Both Microsoft and Apple favoured representing the digital world with a metaphorical desktop. Hence the proliferation of stationery images for icons- an eraser for delete, a paper clip for attach, an envelope for email and so on.

It seems we humans are desperate to make connections with things we understand. Remember how desperate people were to find a way of describing the three lines icon that they came up with a most unlikely Hamburger analogy?

This is probably why the purely abstract icons, like the curved arrow for ‘Reply’, were much more unusual.

The use of a pictogram of a floppy disk as the Save icon is interesting because it started as a literal icon: you saved items onto a floppy disk. Then, as the use of floppy disks died out, it became a metaphor. Now there’s a generation of users who have no idea what a floppy disk is, so they regard the icon as abstract.

It Take 13 Milliseconds to Identify an Image

That is the point about icons. It helps if they are representational, but ultimately you have to learn them. Even the printer icon may not be obvious to the first time computer user. Fortunately pictures are much easier to learn than words. A picture is famously worth a thousand words. It turns out that was just a guess. I’ve often seen quoted research says that the brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than words. I’ve never actually seen the research so it may not be true but I have seen research that proves the human brain can take in an image in 13 milliseconds.

Many of today’s designers want to create modern abstract icons rather than use skeuomorphic images from a bygone age. Hence the Hamburger. Even the Hamburger icon will soon be known and understood by all.

In the meantime, I’m using adding a box that says ‘Search’ on the mobile websites I create.

4 Ways To Make Your Website More User Friendly

‘Keep it simple, stupid’ is old advice but it never dates. Here are four pieces of research that show the importance of keeping your website simple. Consider them when you’re designing a website or checking the quality of a website designer.

‘Keep it simple, stupid’ is old advice but it never dates. Here are four pieces of research that show the importance of keeping your website simple. Consider them when you’re designing a website or checking the quality of a website designer.

  1. The Norman Nielsen Group, who know more abour website usability than anybody on the planet, have found that 79% of users scan an unfamiliar page. Therefore the key elements of the site and the reasons to stay must be instantly obvious. It must conform to design conventions as many users will not take the time to try to understand an innovative design.
  2. Specifically on the text, the Norman Nielsen Group found that the use of bullets, subheadings and highlighted words to break up the text led to a 47% increase in usability, because it made the text easier to scan. So, whatever you do, avoid avoid large blocks of text.
  3. Staying with the words, write your copy in a neutral manner. There’s a 27% increase in usability if objective rather than promotional sales language is used. So avoid offputting words like ‘fantastic’ and ‘wonderful’ and stick to the facts.
  4. People are spending more time accessing the internet on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets than on desktops and laptops. According to OfCom research earlier this year, 57% of people in the UK use one to access internet. Research by Nielsen in the USA supports this. They found adults spend 34 hours per month accessing internet on smartphone as opposed to 27 hours on pc. The lesson is that your site must be responsive to different devices. More than that, you should actually start with the smartphone and tablet designs and work your way up to the PC version. A lot of designers won’t like this because they love creating a design on their big Apple Mac screens. It’s no bad thing that the use of mobile devices is driving us to make websites simpler and easier to use.