Writing web content can be different to writing materials that are designed to be printed.
You need to understand how online users behave in order to write web content.
- Most users scan pages rather than reading them
- Web users are impatient. They will give up easily if they can't find what they want quickly.
- Conventional academic writing styles don't always transfer well onto websites and can be unappealing to non-academic users.
When writing web content you should use concise text, pay attention to layout and indexing, and use appropriate titles and metadata. You can provide more detailed information at lower levels in the site structure or through links to other resources.
Tips for writing web content
The content on your website must be well written and be genuinely useful for your users. You need to make it easy for users to find, read and understand the content on your site.
- Think of your users at all times. Write content for your audience, not for your organisation.
- Ensure that all content has a logical place in the website structure.
Page length and structure
- Keep your pages short. You could set a maximum word count, eg 500 words per page.
- Users do not like scrolling and long pages are off-putting.
- Use headings and subheadings to divide your content logically
- Split your pages into manageable chunks using short paragraphs, headings and subheadings
- Keep headings and titles as short as possible
- All headings and page titles must be clear, meaningful and descriptive. They must represent the content that comes under them.
- Don’t use vague, non-specific headings and titles, such as 'Information' or 'Introduction'
- All titles should make sense to users who arrive from search engines and external links. Remember that many users will not be navigating their way through the site from top to bottom
- Avoid using too many heading levels. Most content should require no more than three heading levels
- Aim for paragraph lengths of no more than three or four sentences. Web users like to be presented with small chunks of information.
- Vary the length of paragraphs to make the content more interesting. Uniform content is hard to scan and looks boring.
- Include space between paragraphs, eg one line return.
- Aim to add a subheading every two to three paragraphs.
- Aim for an average sentence length of 15–20 words.
- Break up long sentences into two or more separate sentences.
- Use bold for important words and phrases, but use it sparingly.
- Use bullet points for lists, rather than long sentences.
- Use plain English and avoid jargon and technical language,
- Don’t repeat content that exists elsewhere on the website. Link to this content instead.
- Remove unnecessary content and clutter (eg ‘welcome to’, ‘click here’, ‘click on the link below’, ‘check back regularly’)
- Use consistent style and formatting
- Don’t underline text that isn’t a link
- Ensure that download files on your site are well-written, consistent and accessible.
- Write in the active voice, rather than the passive voice.
- Use appropriate images to enhance your content.
- Set up a process to ensure that your content is proofread before it is published.
- Check for spelling, punctuation and grammar.
- Check the accuracy of names, phone numbers and links.
- Check that links work.
- Optimise your content so that it ranks highly in search engines. Our search engine optimisation guidelines provide some hints and tips.