Writing for the Web

Writing for the Web

Texts on the Internet have to fulfil many different requirements. But what does that actually mean? Good internet texts sell products, enhance your image, increase visitor figures and are a source of delight for both users and search engines. That’s a lot of responsibility for a simple text. Or rather for its author. To enable you to write good website texts more easily in future, we are launching our blog series entitled “Writing for the Web”.

A new post will appear here on our blog every two weeks, in which we will gradually focus on these and other areas:

  • What is the difference between website texts and printed texts?
  • What are the general rules for writing website texts?
  • How do you optimise a text for search engines?
  • And how do you write advertising for the web?

The first part of “Writing for the Web” examines the reading habits of Internet users. However, before we can take a look at how texts should be written for use on the Web, we must first know how Internet users read our texts.

On-screen reading is strenuous
This was precisely the conclusion that was reached by the American usability researcher Jakob Nielsen many years ago. His tests showed that it takes around 25 per cent longer for a person to read a text on screen compared with the same information in printed form. The reasons for this are clear: when we read a book, newspaper or simply an advertising leaflet, we hold it in the position that is most comfortable for us, and every now and then we change our reading position. A computer screen, however, is often on a desk; our posture in itself becomes uncomfortable when reading for any length of time. But even if you sit on the sofa with a tablet PC, you still rub your tired eyes sooner because the resolution on a computer screen is still worse compared with printed words – quite apart from the fact that flashing banner ads, pop-ups and moving images disturb our concentration, the screen saver keeps activating and both computers and networks are overly fond of crashing.

Web users prefer to skip & skim

This is the dilemma: reading on screen is strenuous, but at the same time users are faced with an enormous choice of websites and information – with the following result: users no longer read the pages, they skim over them. They frequently do not even scroll down long pages. In industry jargon, this kind of behaviour is referred to as “skip & skim”.

Studies have shown that 70-80% of website texts are not read at all. Information is largely disregarded unless it stands out as a title, or is highlighted in bold, in a list or presented as a graphic. The user therefore “scans” the page to look for the relevant information. Texts are no longer read sequentially and as a whole, such as in the case of a book, but rather only in sections.

What does this mean for our texts on the web?

In order for a text to be read, the author would be well advised to observe a few simple rules:

  • Keep it simple! As a rough guide, it should be no more than half as long as a printed publication.
  • Make the text easily accessible: short paragraphs, subheadings and bulleted lists enable the user to start reading at many different points and to quickly find the information that is needed.
  • Longer texts can be divided into several linked pages.
  • Highlight keywords: abandon the idea that users will read through your texts from start to finish. Instead, guide the reader directly to your key statements by means of highlighting.