Writing for the web: Introduction

What is writing for the web, and how does it differ from writing for other media?

Three of the key challenges for web writers and editors are:

  • impatient users
  • a lack of context
  • the need to manage your content.

Users are impatient

Website visitors are busy, impatient, multi-taskers. They may also be busy and impatient when they’re using other media, but the web seems to magnify these qualities.

They’ve come to your website to find out something or to do something: they want to do it quickly and get on to the next thing on their schedule. There is a good chance that if you don’t have what they want, someone else does: if you do have it, you need to make sure they can find it, understand it, and act on it, quickly.

They will scan a page for their key words: the words they associate with the task, not necessarily the ones you (or your organisation) use. If the words are there, they’ll read a bit more – if not, they’ll try somewhere else.

Context is missing

When you read a book, you are dealing with a physical object. You can see how large it is, and how the sections relate to each other. You can (usually) identify its author, editor, publisher, publication date – all of which help you to assess how trustworthy it is. Thanks to the skill of the designer and other members of the publishing team, you can see how each piece of information you’re looking at relates to the rest of the book.

On the web, your readers may have bypassed your home page and come directly from Google, from Facebook or via a Twitter feed. You (and the site designer) need to make sure that they can answer the following questions:

  • Where am I (what site am I on, and where am I within this site)?
  • What can I do here (on this page/on this site)?
  • Can I trust this page and this site (to tell me the truth and not steal information or infect my computer)?

Content needs management

Because a website is not a physical object, it can be difficult to appreciate its size. It is also easy for published content to languish, unloved and unrevised.

A well-managed site has a clear content management strategy and a content inventory: most sites don’t. To manage a site, you need to know:

  • what’s on the site
  • why it’s there
  • when it was last reviewed
  • when it should be removed.

Content which doesn’t actively contribute to your visitors’ goals makes it harder for them to find the content which does.

What can I do about it?

In my next article, I’ll explain how you can start to address these challenges.