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Company websites...boring-g-g-g...

Just recently, I had to prepare a course for writing in the electronic environment. First stop - a look at South African corporate and company websites. Conclusion - they have very little clue about the time people are prepared to spend reading their words...
Not only that but more often than not the style and tone of the writing is straight out of an Annual General Report - not something that makes for easy reading.

We all know by now how important SEO (search engine optimisation) is but this doesn't mean your page has to be boring - and certainly not filled with the same SEO fuelled sentences over and over again.

It's a proven fact reading on line is more of a visual exercise - in other words, not reading word for word or even line for line. What visitors to websites want are small bites of content, whether photos with captions, product descriptions and even twitter bites.

They want to know, 'What is this, and why should I care. What they don't want is multi-paragraph-learn-all-about-how-great-our-stuff-is sales rap.

Grab them with your page

It's the page that grabs them - not the words. They have to get it instantly without having to search through mounds of unnecessary words to find the information they're looking for.

Most people today have favourite sites they visit several times a day, plus those they go to for specific information - as in Google. Let's call these people skimmers. Web page guru Jakob Nielsen of Nielsen Norman Group has come up with the following facts:
• Web users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold (meaning the part of the webpage users first land on).
• Users spend 69% of their time looking at the left half of the webpage and 30% viewing the right half.
• Visitors decide whether to stay on a page within the

first 10 seconds

• If they're interested enough to stay for 30 seconds they may stay longer - at least two minutes or more.

So what this means is that every word you write and every graphic you use has to have impact. There can be no padding or unnecessary words - anything that will make the user click off.

Some points worth pondering

Not only do you have to think of style and tone, as well as being short, sweet and graphic, you have to think of how your page will look if, or when it's opened on a mobile. This is something many web writers don't take into account. It's actually quite simple - just open your page on your phone and see what it looks like. Can you take it all in? Does the necessary information jump out at you?

People getting their information off a mobile have even less patience than those skimming websites and no way will they stand there going from page prompt to page prompt to find the info they're looking for. They want it upfront and central.

There are some wonderful examples of mobile use such as McDonald's, News24, City Press and some appalling ones such as Mango and Kulula. By the time you try and enlarge the sections to book you've lost other vital information you need. Simply not user friendly.

So a few writing for the web/mobile tips:
• No long introductions - get to the point
• Remember people aren't there for a reading session - they want to get in and get out
• Less is more - cut the words down to the bare bones
• A picture or great graphic says more than any words
• Think what questions your average reader wants answers to
• Write in conversational style - as though you're talking to the person
• Write in PLAIN language - no jargon or legal language
• Guide your readers through the page with sub headings

Last but not least - read your page out loud before you post it and get another pair of eyes to check it out. Nothing makes you look more of a loser than stupid spelling and grammar mistakes. As I read on a recent Tweet 'All my best copyediting work is done after I hit 'send'...

A Tweet is one thing but a corporate website?

A few classics:
o Online orders using this link/Click her to order
o ... have mutual directors who with there staff ...
o It is a very straight car and solid underneath. The car drives very well, pulls straight and the engine is extreamily strong.
o Weather its just your galley or bathroom...

About Marion Scher

Marion Scher ( is an award-winning journalist, lecturer, media trainer and consultant with 25 years' experience in the industry. For more of her writing, go to her Bizcommunity profile or to Twitter @marionscher.
Cath Milward-Bridges
Great insights, Marion! I like your back-to-basics approach that still resonates with modern day business needs.
Posted on 28 Feb 2014 11:34