Writing Contents for the Web

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You get home after a hard day’s work, make a tea and lie down on the couch covered by a blanket (let’s imagine it is cold) with a good book in your hands and…

Let’s face it. This romantic vision of reading is really nice when we read for pleasure. However, when we read on a screen and look for information and our sole intention is not only enjoying our reading, the way we read is very different.

When we design a website, we should always reflect about the way we want to interact with the user, how s/he is going to behave, on which mobile device the user will read our site and the best way to navigate efficiently. A very common error is not having into account this premise when copying text contents in the screen. The aim of this post is to provide some basic information concerning this topic.


1.       What’s first: design or content?

It depends, of course! In a perfect scenario where we would start a project from the beginning, the best would be to have the contents before starting to design. Thus, wireframes would be designed according to our intentions and later content changes would be minimal. (After reading this, Factorsim editors and designers must be dying of laughter…).

If we are realistic, during the creation process of a website, it cannot be avoided the fact that contents appear and disappear and designs are modified. Inevitably, the modification of contents affects the design and vice versa, but if we are foresighted and plan the project well from the beginning, we can reduce the number of changes in the production.

If we need to add new content in a design already validated, we should keep in mind how much space we have, write according to it and try to send our message to the user in a limited number of characters. Besides, we will not fool designers and developers. If we can do it on Twitter, we can also do it on our web. ¡Economics of language!

On the another hand, a change of the graphic design will (probably) have an effect on the contents already edited, thus it will be necessary to try to cause the smallest impact possible on the content already published.


2. Brevity is the soul of wit…

In many occasions, we confuse empty spaces with spaces of no use. This sometimes leads us to add “one more explanation” that sometimes is not necessary.

Clean spaces are better received and faster understood by the user. S/he will need no more than a few minutes to decide whether or not our web is what s/he is looking for, i.e., if we fill in our website with unnecessary content, the user will probably never read this “one more explanation”. What is the conclusion of it? It can be omitted!

simple vintage sea green frame

In the article 5-Second Test: Measuring Your Site Content’s Pages, we can see an example of the perception that the user has when being exposed during a period of 5 seconds to one message presented in two different ways. Webs that use it are not an example of what I would use as “clean” web, but, in my opinion, the example is clear: one of them works. The other does not. Moreover, if we find it necessary to leave hints to the user along the web to indicate him/her how s/he will find the content, it probably means that our website has a problem.

3. Why do I write what I write?

A website is not a blog. As obvious as it may seem, sometimes it can be difficult to keep this in mind when we write some content. A website can contain a blog or have spaces dedicated to detailed text information to which we can access from our Home, but we will rarely need a lot of text in the main pages of our site.

Even if a blog should have some defined writing standards in order to improve the understanding of the user, it does not have the space limitations of one website. The reason is that the aim of a blog is to inform about something (more or less) detailed. In order to write texts of each page of our website, we should be aware of the aim of each of them. Do we want to attract people’s attention? How do we want him/her to behave in a certain way? Do we want the user to access to certain information? Etc.


Once we have defined the aim of our site, we will be able to decide our content and organize it hierarchically, therefore, what’s important will appear first (remember that the content that is on the top of the page will be indexed on Google). Moreover, it will be easier to choose the appropriate (and exact) words for our message.


4. What and how do I write?

Although knowing the writing limitation is important, introducing the text in the right way is also important. If we keep in mind the idea that the user is not going to read, but to “scan” our site to decide whether or not it is worth his/her time, we should make things easy for him/her. The following tips will help you:

  • In order to call into action, we will use bare infinitives and imperatives in 3-4 word maximum such as “Access” or “Contact with us”.
  • If our text is longer than two introduction sentences, we will use simple sentences and short paragraphs. Therefore, the reader will not have to stop the reading to understand long subordinate clauses.
  • Visual resources can be used in order to highlight some important parts of the text. We can use bold, italics, colours, typographies, lists, graphic presentations, etc., but we should not abuse of them. For instance, if we make a whole text bold, the highlight function loses its meaning.
  • The style of the writing should be the same in the whole site, i.e. if we direct to the user in singular and a direct style in the Home, we cannot use a plural or indirect style in other screens.
  • It is important to keep in mind that when we create a web, the user is not always in front of a computer (every time more). The responsive version of a very long text can ruin our site.

If you want further information, check this book Tienes 5 segundos by Juan Carlos Camus, which is a perfect writing guide for web contents in addition to a detailed explanation of the 5-second theory I was mentioning in the second point of this post.


5. What about the absence of text?

Neither one extreme nor the other. Websites with background images or videos are trend for 2014, but the total absence of text is not recommended in SEO, because images and videos do not index in Google. That is another reason why key words should be in the first text lines of the site. These same key words are those that, as editors, we can visually highlight so that the user can locate them fast and make it easier for him/her to decide whether or not wants to keep reading our content.


6. Introduction, development and conclusion

Although this is the essay structure we learnt in Secondary School, it does not work in websites. What if a user has access to a screen which is not the Home through a search engine, a friend or a tweet? S/he will also need a context.

The way how we read a website is not always linear, so when we write, we should keep in mind that it might be the first time the user reads something about the topic we are talking about. But, of course, it is important to show graphically the web section we are: menus, breadcrumbs…  Context, please!

As well as I mentioned in the beginning, these is just some basic information about the topic that could be useful at the beginning or as a reflection for all those (like us) who play with words.


NOTE: En editor would never have used a point after “The end”.

Source of images:


  • mileswinslow@web.de'

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