Web content… 2 challenges for “Writing Right for the Web”

Content challenges for both traditional and mobile websites

Just finished updating the second “Writing Right for the Web” webinar next week, focusing on social media and mobile content. That had me back reading the questions sent along a few weeks ago by people already signed up for the sessions. Two of those were content related; the answers apply to both traditional and mobile websites.

If you missed the earlier post on these questions, here is the question people answered:
  • “What is your most pressing challenge or area of concern when writing for and presenting content on” a traditional website and for social media and mobile sites?
Two of the challenges reported were related to content:
  • “Understanding how best to develop content pertinent to all audiences and optimize for search.”
  • “Translating messaging from offline publications and communications to a style that is optimal for online readers.”
And here are some notes on how to best deal with these related issues. Which ones will be of most help on various campuses will vary, based in part on local talent and understanding of what works online, politics, and available staff time.
Developing the best content
  • Start by asking each audience to identify the top tasks that are most important to them. Then let the answers to that search be your guide to priority content placement on first and second level web pages. That means surrendering considerable control of your website to your key audiences. Not many are yet willing to do that.
  • How to find out what your audiences want from your website? Hire Customer Carewords research or read a guide from the U.S. Government and do it yourself. 
  • The most important point: do this research before your next major website revision begins. Don’t rely on usability tests after you have the initial design in place. Usability testing and top task research are not the same thing. Start with the right information in hand. Planning a mobile site? Identify top tasks before you do anything else. Those are the links that people should see first when your mobile home page opens.
  • Beware of marketers. It pains me to write this, but I have to agree with my Carewords partner from Sweden, Fredrik Wacka, that the marketing impulse can hinder and even destroy the effectiveness of your website. Very few people come to a higher education website (or most any website) to read marketing content. Too often that content takes precedence over top task content and creates a barrier to top task completion. When that happens, people will leave your site. 
  • The imperative to reduce marketing content is more important on your mobile site, where you have even less time to connect with your audience. Best way to boost your brand at your website: make top task completion easy.
Translating from offline publications
  • Resist the impulse to slap content on your website as a PDF or “flip tech” copy of your printed publications. The more important the content, the more important it is to take the time to prepare a “web friendly” version that people might actually read online. That’s true for admissions view books, alumni magazines, transfer guides, academic program brochures and just about anything else I can think of.
  • Next, make sure the web content conforms to usability tested guidelines for content presentation.
    • Use subhead that people can immediately scan when a page opens. Long, dense blocks of text are deadly.
    • No paragraph longer than 5 lines. 
    • Use short sentences. If you find yourself using a semi-colon your sentence is likely getting too long.
    • Use short words used by normal human beings as often as possible. Yes, if you’re writing about research in a discipline for others trained in the discipline you can take liberties.
    • Don’t be afraid of the “you” word. The web is an informal place. Get bureaucratic writing filled with imperatives that “students must do” out of the content. Check this “Admission Requirements” page at St. Edward’s University where you find “you” or “your” used 12 times. Also note the short paragraphs and white space between them.
Alertbox reports on web writing
Jakob Nielsen has 15+ years of experience testing how people use websites. Take advantage of this by subscribing (for free) to his of Alertbox newsletters. Be sure to read the series on web writing. Send these to everyone on campus you think might pay attention to them.
Writing Right for the Web next week… solving more challenges
Join us on December 6 & December 8 for “Writing Right for the Web”
  • Review what we’ll cover for traditional websites as well as the social media and mobile worlds in the Academic Impressions webinar outline.
  • Register and invite everyone who might be interested.
That’s all for now.

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