As designers and developers we spend a lot of time (and client money) perfecting the form and function of websites. We slave over accessibility, standards compliance and cross browser compatibility but one of the most important aspects of a build, the site content, is often left to the last minute. Preparing content isn't necessarily a hard task but like design and development there are some rules to remember if you're going to do it well.
1. Write for your audience
When writing web content the most important thing to know is who your audience is. Spend some time researching who they are, what they like and dislike and what they're looking for - you can then tailor your content to suit. Read what your visitors read - i.e. trade related publications and websites. Look at competitor's sites to see what they do (or don't do) well. Familiarise yourself with industry specific terminology to help with your credibility. Constantly revisit who it is you're writing for to get the tone and style right.
2. Have a purpose
Not only is good web writing concise and to the point but it also gives clear direction as to what a visitor should do next. If a website is sales oriented, the copy should aim to bring visitors further along the sales cycle. If it's marketing based it needs to provide relevant answers to questions visitors may have. The minute your copy starts to lack clarity and direction your visitors will go elsewhere. Good web copy always keeps the needs of visitors in mind.
3. Don't be wordy
Web content needs to be brief and punchy - it also needs to be at least 50% shorter than print. Shorten sentences to 20 words or less and get rid of anything that doesn't need to be there. Wordiness puts off visitor. Say what you mean and do it quick.
4. Write scannable text
79% of visitors only quickly scan content which means unless they find what they're after quickly, they're gone. Organise content into chunks, separating each with sub-headings or using lists helps to make content more scannable. Front-loading - where important or goal oriented info is placed at the beginning of a sentence - is another useful tool for helping people find what they need quickly.
5. Watch your language
Neutral language is a no no. The only way to quickly attract and hold the user's attention is through active language. For example the following passive sentence, Daily updates can be found on the news page has less impact than the active, Find daily updates on the news page. Active language is generally shorter and takes less thought to process which is what you need to aim for.
6. Always proofread
Don't ever let any content onto the web before it's been proofread. There's no excuse for typos, grammatical errors or general sloppiness. Any mistakes will damage your credibility so be vigilant.
7. Team up with a designer
The design of a site, and the content that appears on it, rely on each other to convey messages to visitors. Neither can thrive without the other so it's handy to sit down with a designer and plan out how things should flow. A designer may suggest that a chunk of text would be better represented as an image or a downloadable document. Alternatively you might have some ideas on pull quote placement and formatting. Working with a designer will help the end product so be open to the experience.