When the typical web visitor has the attention span of a guppy, the impact on your messaging becomes pretty obvious.
You need to get to the point quickly or you need to employ specific copywriting techinques to pique your reader’s interest and encourage them to linger.
But yeah, I know. Easier said than done.
In this article, I’m going to focus on a critical aspect for writing effectively for the web. Even if you don’t make any other changes to your web content—this one fix will go a long way towards serving the needs of your web visitors.
What’s that one thing? Structure. Specifically, how you organize and present your content on a web page.
I know, talking about how you lay out your content doesn’t sound the least bit sexy. But I’m guessing that getting better results from your website is something that does interests you or you wouldn’t be reading this post.
In this, the second article of a three part series, I share a few tips to help you create irresistible content for your website.
The articles in this series are:
- Part 1: Deciding what information you need to share and what you don’t
- Part 2: Organizing your web content to reflect the way people read online
- Part 3: Writing in a conversational style that makes it easier for readers to absorb your content and increase engagement
Structuring your content for impact
Generally speaking, people go online because they have a problem. It might be that they need an answer to a simple question like your business hours or telephone. It might be that they are gathering research for a complex issue that is coming up at work or in their personal life. Either way, they depend on search engines like Google and Bing to find what they need and quickly filter out irrelevant data.
Once this web user lands on your website, they are wondering just one thing: is this what I’m looking for? In other words, does this page, or this website, have an answer to the question that’s on my mind?
They will scan your page, taking just a few seconds to make a decision. If your content is not relevant to their needs, they immediately move on. In fact, they typically only take just 2 to 8 seconds.
This rapid-fire decision making is fine if your content is, in fact, not relevant for their search. But what if your content contains exactly the information they needed?
Wouldn’t you want them to read it?
If you want your web visitors to see your site as a useful resource—one that can help them solve specific problems—then it’s not enough that your content be useful. It also needs to pass the two-second scan test.
Let’s use the example I’ve included below to illustrate this point. (You can click on the images to make them larger.)
Passing the two-second test
The example on the left is a real-life excerpt from the National Institutes of Health. The article is well written and and contains useful information. However, an impatient web visitor might overlook it because there is nothing on the page, aside from the main feature image, to grab his or her attention.
The example on the right contains the same information. However, the article is now structured to allow scanners to quickly assess the content for relevancy (i.e., does it answer their question).
In other words, it passes the two-second test.
Tips for improving the overall structure of your web copy
- Break up your content using the appropriate heading tags h1, h2, h3
- Use short paragraphs that contain no more than 1-3 sentences
- Write relatively short sentences that have less than 15 words per sentence
- Use bulleted lists
- Highlight important quotes using block quotes
- Incorporate graphical elements such as images or video to break up blocks of text
Action Step: Pick an article that you want to revise to make it more web-friendly.
Incorporating white space
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of empty, white space around your text and images.
In much the same way that an art gallery will generally always leave large empty spaces between works of art, an effective web page will use white space to give the online reader a place to “rest.”
If you take another look at the previous example, it immediately becomes clear that the revised page is now much more “open.” There is more space between each line as well as after the paragraphs. The shorter sentences and bullet points also leave more white space on the right side of the page.
The following example from Nancy Duarte’s guide, Slidedocs: Spread ideas with effective documents, does a great job of illustrating this point.
Just like in the previous illustration, the content in both examples is also exactly the same.
The first example reflects a typical, densely worded business report. Very informative, but also incredibly uninviting. Only a determined person would take the time to closely read the data.
The second example breaks up the information into smaller, more manageable chunks. The result is significantly more engaging.
Action Step: Consider increasing the line height for your different heading and paragraph styles. This might require some CSS coding. Depending on how you created your website, you might only have to add a few lines into your custom.css file. Another option is to ask your web designer to take care of this for you.
While you’re at it, you might also want to look into tweaking the margin or padding defaults for your images.
Including non-text content elements
The web is an interactive, visual medium. Adding useful or interesting visual elements increases the likelihood that your web visitors will read or share your content.
Examples of visual content elements include:
- Images, such as photos and illustrations
- Webinars or video tutorials that you’ve recorded and embedded on your site
- Slideshare presentations (to see what a Slideshare presentation should look like, check out this presentation I created)
Some other ideas to consider:
- Recorded audio interviews, such as podcasts
- Interactive quizzes and polls
Action step: There are many low-cost or free online resources that can help you to add more graphics to your website.
Here are a few free stock photo sites that you might like:
You can also create images at sites like Canva. Another option is to download graphics from sites like GraphicRiver or Creative Market which you can either use as is or customize to match your branding.
In the next and final article in this series, I will discuss the rationale behind using a conversational style in your web content.