Writing effective content for websites

Without much ado, here’s how I do it:
Stage: Pre-production
1. Rough brief: List the elements that the new site has to have. Get a sense of the sort of content to be included – for instance, is it a hardcore corporate site or is it more visually driven?
2. Global benchmarking: Visit websites & note the presentation techniques employed by others in the same or similar line of business.

3. Competitors’ analysis: Visit sites of market competitors & make a list of their best & worst practices.

4. Gathering material: Leaf through the brochures, ads, etc. to get a sense of the products & the way in which they are marketed on the ground.

5. Interviews: Speak to people associated with all aspects of the product to get a perspective on what is important, what needs to be showcased upfront, what can be relegated to the background, etc.

Stage: Production
1. Visualization: Make a mental picture of what each page would include. Some pages might be text-heavy (e.g. the ‘About us’ segment) while others could be driven by images, icons, etc. (e.g. Shopping cart, Work samples, Contact us, etc.)

2. Content structure/ sitemap: Create a working set of menu items, titles, etc. to be included. Subheads or a general description of the content of each page to be included where possible.

3. Writing content: Collate all the information available into manageable chunks taking care to ensure that:

  • The text is brief & to-the-point, such that people can get to the point quickly instead of having to concentrate too hard on what they are reading.
  • The first couple of lines introduce the topic to be discussed on that page.
  • Everything is written in ‘active’ voice (e.g. The company creates ABC products for XYZ market), rather than ‘passive’ (e.g. ABC products have been created by the company for the XYZ market).
  • Every page/ paragraph has plenty of opportunities for interaction. If the reader wants to take action such as filling up a form or contacting the company, he or she does not have to look too hard to find a way of doing it.
  • Content for each page is kept brief such that there is no need to keep scrolling. Wherever the content exceeds these limits or where further details are to be introduced, the reader is led to a page linked to the one he/ she is perusing.
  • The text focuses on what the visitor gains, not what is done to ensure he or she gets these benefits. For instance, saying: “This microwave oven saves you time by cooking things within 10 minutes”, is more effective than saying: “Microwave ovens created by us use special microfiller technology that brings down the temperature at which food cooks.”
  • There are plenty of subheads within the text. Running text never works on the Internet. Everything goes into logical subheads so that a reader may simply scan the page to get a gist of what’s being said.
  • Important points within the text are highlighted using bold or italicized fonts.
  • Wherever appropriate, points that belong together are presented in the form of a list.
  • The content does not suffer from ‘writer’s bias’ – the tendency of a writer to use certain words, phrases & a certain style of writing over & over again.
  • Images or diagrams are used instead of words, wherever possible. This breaks the monotony of reading a chunk of text.

Stage: Post-production
1. Editing: After the text doc is ready, the content needs to be edited for language, style & grammar and to avoid repetition of points elsewhere within the site.

2. Hyperlinks: Once it is clear what the content of each page is, relevant items within the text are linked to other segments of the site. Care is taken to ensure that only the right – often, ‘action’ – words are linked. For instance, ‘We offer a 30% discount on some items’. Here, linking the words ‘30% discount’ will make the reader assume that he/ she is being led to a page that has details about the discount, while linking ‘items’ makes the reader think that he will now see a list of the items on which the discount is offered.

3. Editing as per visual orientation: Content has to be aligned to the look & feel of the site. For instance, there may not be enough space for a paragraph that was originally very long, captions may be required for some pictures, the tone of the text may have to be changed based on the animation & graphics used on the site, and more. Also, the content itself has to be rechecked for any spelling, grammar or other errors that may have occurred when the text was being integrated into the site design.

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. It does not cover, for instance, the whole thought process that goes into SEO/ SEM activities, the logic by which to write meta tags, titles, descriptions, et al. However, it does lay down the very basic rules by which content for the Internet ought to be created. The rest, as they say, is fodder for another post 🙂