Writing Right for the Web… a few key points

Web Writing… some progress but not nearly enough

On Monday this week I sent off my updated “Writing Right for the Web” presentation for the upcoming webinar on April 20 with Academic Impressions. Having done these for about 4 years now, I took a trip down memory lane back to the original one. Here are a few key points that stand out from then until now.

Print publications to online versions

    • My wish that PDFs for alumni magazines, annual reports, and admissions viewbooks woujld vanish from higher education websites has not made nearly as much progress as I’d hoped for. Some change has taken place. Magazines are online now using WordPress and that’s a great step forward.
    • One of my favorites from The Johns Hopkins University is always worth a visit, especially as you can compare with a “flip technology” version that’s also available when you scroll to the bottom of the online magazine page. The Carleton University magazine is another long-time leader in this area.
    • Flip technology is often substituted for PDFs to no great advantage. Visitors still have to increase initial page size to read text. The two reasons I hear most often for a “flip” approach: (1) it is quick to do and (2) it shows the original print design on the web the way the design person intended it to look. I can understand the logic of the first when resources are slim. The second makes no sense at all.
    • One of my long-time favorites, a “blogazine” at Mount Holyoke College, is gone from the April webinar as it has been replaced by a new “flip” version.

Other points to note:

  • Blocks of dense text still appear often, especially in welcome statements from deans and presidents and in academic program descriptions. Time with a cursor to limit paragraphs to 5 or 6 lines and add white space between paragraphs would help a lot.
    • “Don’t make them squint” is a maxim not followed often enough. See a nice use of type at University of San Francisco to introduce brand elements at the start of a page. 
    • The ability to let visitors adjust font sizes themselves hasn’t spread much. I’m still using my original example from East Stroudsburg University
    • Language remains overly filled with jargon beloved within higher education but not so common outside academe. A recent example was the words “Articulation Agreements” rather than “Transfer Agreements” on the title of a page prepared not for a Registrar’s conference but for potential transfer students.

The “5 second rule” is most important:

    • You have about 5 seconds to capture someone’s interest when they arrive at one of your web pages. Take longer than that and people will simply leave the page and perhaps your entire website if you violate that rule on the page they start at.
    • Make a list of your web pages that are visited most often by new visitors to your site. Compare the bounce rates (percent of people leaving without going anywhere else on your website) on those pages. When the bounce rate is over 35 percent you have a “first impression” problem that needs fixing.

That’s all for now 

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