Content: From a Visitor’s Point of View

Website content is the vehicle site visitors take to decide if your offerings meet their needs. Writing web content requires a style fit for the medium. Web users are busy and rely on the Internet for convenient access to information. To communicate effectively it’s important to understand what motivates users, how they use the web, and how to speak to them on their terms.

Web users are primarily online to solve a problem. The sites they visit must quickly make it clear whether they can solve that problem, or the visitor will move on.

Because of the sheer volume of information available, web users do as little reading as possible, then make a judgement. They scan pages for relevant information, then decide whether or not the site can help them. Information therefore must be presented in “scannable” form. Headings, subheads, photo captions and bullet lists are all important scan-points for website visitors, who use these elements to determine if there is anything worthwhile for them on the page.

If a visitor finds something of interest, they will click to go deeper, and read in more detail. But initially, visitors cannot be expected to wade through lengthy paragraphs when it’s so much easier to click to something else that may be more useful.

Web content also benefits visitors when it’s more focused on information and less on “sales-speak.” Glossy, adjective-laden prose serves the company, not the visitor, and visitors have no patience for it. What visitors want is solid, factual information that helps them solve their problem. The sooner their problem is solved the sooner visitors can stop searching and become customers.

Brief Is Better

Because reading on computer screens takes energy, and because visitors are busy to begin with, web content must be brief. Short paragraphs and sentences with plenty of white space make textual content much more inviting. Cutting the word count to the bare minimum almost always improves readability.

But web pages are not only read by people. Computers read sites, and this is especially important when sites are visited by search engine “spiders.” These programs read pages and assign rankings based on the content they find. Web pages, therefore, should be written with search engines in mind. Keywords should appear in the page’s META and TITLE tags as well as headings, image ALT tags and page copy to improve search engine rankings.

Finally, content should cause visitors to act. “Action” should be the automatic response of visitors whose questions have been answered, and whose problem has been solved as a result of visiting the site. Content can include links or other devices that enable visitors to act on the information they’ve found by going to the next step in the process. Giving users the ability to act on information is a key difference between the web and other communications media, and can be fully utilized in web content. For instance …

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