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10 Rules for Web Writing

Web writing is not your high school English teacher's writing style. Writing for the web must present the primary points of the article in order of importance and in as few words as possible. Online readership is very fast. Pages are scanned and not read. Long or dense copy will not be read. The point of web writing is to make the copy look easy and appealing to read.

Most of us know what our high school English teachers taught us about how to present thoughts and ideas. Making the leap to offering compelling copy for online readers is not difficult if you know the rules for writing.

10 Rules for Web Writing

1. Keep page content above the fold, if at all possible. This refers to the old newspaper rule of keeping the most important stories "above the fold" of the newspaper. Keep your message on the visible portion of the screen when the page opens. As a rule of thumb, limit the horizontal length of the page to about ½ the page width.

2. Focus the content of each page (Exception: the Home Page) on one topic. Prioritize the presentation of information and present the must know information about you or your product or service first.

3. Begin your writing with your conclusion. This is your "hook". Interested site visitors will keep reading because you appear to be "on topic".

4. Use sub-headings to break your copy. This is especially true if you will be ignoring Rule #1.

5. Don't forget to include a Call to Action in the white space around your copy. This can be a simple "Call us today for a free estimate" or as simple as including your phone number in a highly visible location on the page.

6. Use simple sentences, active voice, and present tense. Avoid jargon, run-on sentences and over-use of prepositional phrases. Use short simple familiar words. Now is the time to use keep the KISS (Keep It Simple) formula top of mind.

7. Use simple graphic elements such as bulleted lists and numbered steps to make information visually clear.

8. Use numbered lists and bulleted lists consistently. Use numbered lists for instructions that must be performed in the sequence described. Use bulleted lists when presenting information that has no particular sequence of performance.

9. Use culture and gender neutral language. For example, you, their, or our is preferable to his or her.

10. Use correct grammar, punctuation and spelling.

Web sites should read as clearly and succinctly as possible. Web readers generally demonstrate a 25% slower reading comprehension rate on the Web than on paper. Online text should be a minimum of 50-60% shorter than text appearing on any printed collateral. Web writing should be at least half the length of what may appear in print. There are several methods for editing or "thinning the text" to achieve a message with impact:

- Use the active voice in most sentences
- Remove prepositional phrases where possible
- Avoid jargon that may only be understood by niche audiences
- Use specific words that are easy to comprehend rather than lengthy or vague phrases
- Write in the audience's vocabulary
- Make all sentences precise and to the point

Web Site Visitors scan rather than read. Web writing rules dictate then that text be presented in digestible chunks, allowing the reader to quickly glean the message, offer, or call to action.
- Headings should act as "hooks" and quickly inform the reader of the information in the text
- Place emphasis on subject headings that introduce separate subjects within the same page (for those ignoring Rule #2)
- Subheadings are crucial to providing personalized content to each reader, increasing usability and retention. Keep the headings succinct and direct.

Relay key points within the first few sentences of each page or content chunk. This method is consistent with maintaining the reader's style on a Web site, the speed and ease at which a reader may require information. By effectively summarizing before detailing, the reader can gather the most important points and act on the information immediately should they chose not read further. If the text introduces additional product or application pages, the call-to-action links and a brief description of what to expect should precede any other information.

Text should call out important information by bullet points, colors and links. The key to successful Web text is the presentation of text, as well as the length. A lengthy paragraph can be easily cut into a few sentences and readability improved but scannability is greatly improved by colors and quick links for more information.

Use of the Active Voice. As our communication media becomes more "impersonal", the more effective "personality" becomes when writing on the Web. Using a second-person active voice can help bridge the divide, making the message more realistic and "human" and more effectively engaging the reader.

Structure and Navigation (When and How to Link)
One of the most overlooked aspects of Web writing is presentation and structure. Although many sites keep information succinct, they are often structurally confusing, with no clear informational path from one page to the next. Informational structure should direct a reader in one clear direction, leaving little confusion of what is next.

Anticipate the needs of the reader. Think of the questions readers may have an answer them in your content. Because readers will chose to proceed to some piece of information or opportunity they are seeking, the site must contain a usable road map or structure to allow them to easily access the desired content. Empower the user to seek their own path through your website.

Read your text aloud. This is a good exercise to determine good informational flow. If it sounds stilted or confusing when you say it aloud, reading it on the web will magnify the perception. If possible tape yourself and play it back. This will quickly allow you to see where you might need clarification or a wording change.

We hope that you have found this article on Web Writing Tips to be helpful in creating more user friendly content for your web marketing efforts

Denise is the owner of FastForward Marketing Solutions, an agency specializing in helping small business owners with online marketing promotion. Denise has been active in internet marketing since the late 90's and has participated in its explosive growth. She believes that the growth to date is just the tip of the iceberg and more substantial growth is yet to come. She also believes that small business owners are often behind when it comes to new technology and techniques employed by larger competitors.

The internet is one of the few places that a small business owner can "win" against a much larger competitor and too many of them are missing this opportunity. Denise is committed to seeing that small business can compete successful online through every means possible.

For more information, training, or plan development, please contact her at or email at

Categories : Online business    Themes : Content
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