When you create a website, you can spend hours agonising over the content.
But one of the greatest myths of the internet is that people read webpages.
Read Time: 4 minutes
Study after study has shown that people only read word-by-word when the content is interesting to them.
The vast majority of the time we skim-read pages. Looking for highlighted keywords, meaningful headings, short paragraphs and scannable lists.
This is so prevalent that 79% of people scan read when browsing the web.
Given the duration of the average page view time, users actually only have time to read about 28% of the words on a page.
That means less than 80% of your potential customers or website visitors, do not read every word you have painstakingly written.
But that’s ok. Because knowing this means we can use it to our advantage.
So, here are 4 handy tips on writing the text for your website. These tips are so simple that you can action them straight away!
1) Avoid large blocks of text
Readers are more likely to scan read, and less likely to find what they need when text is in blocks and not formatted.
Unformatted blocks of text make it harder to find the things that are relevant to us. And when faced with the prospect of having to spend the time reading through it all to find out what we need, we’ll end up skimming it instead. Looking for hints before we choose to make a time investment.
But this is a symptom of poorly formatted copy. Readers resort to this pattern when we’re forced to scan those large blocks.
Instead, be generous with your use of subheadings, highlighted text, boxes, images and bullet-point lists to break up a page. Try to introduce these elements at least once every 250 words.
Try to limit how many words appear in a text block. Don’t be afraid to hit enter. Try to limit paragraphs to a maximum of 3 to 5 sentences.
Having more paragraphs, gaps and formatting styles is easier on the reader's eye.
Because of this, your text will be easier for the user to scan. They’ll be able to use the subheadings, highlighted text, etc. as signposts to find the information they want as quickly as possible.
2) Tell them early
When formulating bullet points, sentences, headlines or anything else, focus on the first 2 words.
This is particularly important for scan readers.
Inform people as early as possible whether your content is for them, so they can move on or chose to consume.
Take this headline for example:
“So, how do you write better headlines?” - those first two words tell the user very little.
“Write a better headline” - is better, but still those first two words aren't hugely helpful.
“Better headlines” - ideal, this cuts out all the clutter and gets to the point!
By being concise, you end up communicating honestly with the reader. They’re able to understand and can judge whether they want to read your content.
This advice is particularly useful for subheadings where being concise and succinct is incredibly valuable for scan readers.
3) Use the 50/50/50 editing technique
Now we know your website visitors are skim reading, you will want to consider reviewing the existing content on your website.
Chances are that you are oversharing. Telling people stuff they don’t need to know or accidentally over-complicating things.
Edit your website down so that it is more concise. Want to know what the best way to do this is?
At Epix Media we use a very simple method when it comes to editing website content. We call it the 50/50/50 method.
Step 1: Write down everything you want or need to about a topic. Get it all out!
Step 2: After 24 hours, come back to what you’ve written. Review it and aim to cut the content in half.
Step 3: After another 24 hours, review the cut-down content and aim to cut that in half.
If you've written a lot, you may want to continue this process a few more times.
If you're struggling, here are some simple tips on how to cut the text down:
- Remove words like ‘very’ and ‘really’ – they add nothing to content and your text will be more impactful without them
- Remove any embellishing or exaggerations – is your product the ‘best in the world’? – website visitors see through these
- Avoid the word ‘we’ - realise people care about the results you offer them rather than who you are – always focus on the customer
- Leave industry jargon out – even industry experts prefer to read content that isn’t filled with jargon
- Use an active voice – this makes your content more impactful to the reader as well as helping to condense down the word count.
4) Buttons & links
Never use ‘Read More’ or ‘Click Here’.
Content has to work for scan-readers. With the key information included early and highlighted so it's simple for users to identify.
Some of the most prominent things on a web page are its buttons and links. Often, they stand out compared to surrounding content because we want people to click on them!
The problem is when you have buttons and links that say 'Read More' or 'Click Here', you’re making the assumption that the user has read the information around them.
And that assumption is often incorrect.
The correct assumption should be that they haven’t read any information around the button or link, because they’ve scan read your page, or worse, skipped straight to the colourful bits!
Without the context of the text above the button, phrases like 'Read More' or 'Click Here' are meaningless.
The user will be thinking 'Read more about what…', 'Click here for what…?'. And will ignore it.
The same rules apply as 'telling them early', your buttons and links need to be front-loaded and relevant and tell the user what they’ll ‘get’ on the other side of that click.