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Last Updated on September 29, 2020.

Writing web content that users want

  • Internet users want web content that is easy to scan, concise and factual
  • They want your site to be focused around their needs
  • They want your site to be efficient to use
  • They want to trust the website owner

Your first step in writing web-wise content is to understand what users want and how they read on the Internet.

How users read on the Internet

The way users read on the Internet is different from the way they read printed pages. People rarely read word by word on the web.   They scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences:-

  • Over 80% of Internet users read by scanning
  • Users spend about twelve per cent of their time trying to locate desired information on a page
  • Users tend to skim the first one or two sentences of each paragraph when scanning text
  • Users tend to scan until they find something interesting and then they read
Give users what they want!

1 Write web content that is easy to scan

Users can only read by scanning if you write content in a way that makes it scannable:-

  • Arrange your content so that users can ignore large blocks of text at a time.
  • Use meaningful headings so users can quickly skip to the next section of interest.
  • Start each page and each paragraph with your conclusion.
  • Limit each paragraph to one key concept which is summarised in the first sentence or two.   This way users can safely skip a paragraph without missing a key point.
  • Use bullet points and lists.

Read more about writing content that is easy to skim and scan – it’s called the Inverted Pyramid style of writing.

2 Make it concise and factual

Reduce your word-count to about 50% of what you would write for print – this is all that users are prepared to read on the Internet.

Users prefer a style that is factual and objective.   Avoid jargon and marketing fluff.  Be direct.  Use the active case (“the user reads” – not “the page is read by the user”).

3 Design User-centric web pages

Design your site around the needs of your users.  The user is not interested in you, your organization or products in themselves.  Users are interested in what your site, your organization or your products can do for them.

Analyse what your users want to find or achieve on your web site and organize your content around those needs.

4 Make your site efficient to use

  • Group similar activities or content together
  • Organise your content sequentially to follow the user’s work-flow
  • Do not require users to remember instructions from a previous page in order to complete tasks
  • Do user testing to eliminate errors and to learn what works for the user and what doesn’t

5 Build Trust

Users want to trust the site owner.  Publish enough details to allow users to:-

  • Gain a sense of who the site owner is
  • Be able to contact the site owners and receive a reply
  • Be confident that the site policies are ethical (respect of privacy and copyright)
  • Be confident that their financial information is secure

Demonstrate integrity of purpose and content.  Make the purpose of your web site clear and obvious.  Ensure that your content conforms to that purpose.   This principle applies to entire web sites, to web pages and to paragraphs.

Read more about website trust and credibility.