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Website usability - content planning and writing

by Chris Sutton | February 9, 2012

In a recent post we looked at website usability and focused on navigation. Today we’ll look at on page usability.

It’s interesting that various studies show that website visitors typically read less than half the text on a page, with some studies showing less than 30% of text read. Whatever the statistics actually are, it’s clear you have to plan and write specifically for the web rather than copy and paste text from other media.

The overall goal with website text has to be to make it as easy to read as possible and to get the key messages across as soon as possible. That means not only must it be concise and well written, but that the layout must ensure that it is easy to understand and that it caters to the reading habits of online visitors.

General writing principles

  • Keep text as concise as possible, that way you will encourage visitors to read more of what you write
  • It’s generally accepted the website readers skim through a  lot of content. So make sure place the key points and keywords near the beginning of your text on any page.
  • Avoid long paragraphs and sentences
  • Use plain language, there are no prizes for convoluted sentence structures and obscure words.


Page structure

Because visitors will skim read your pages, they will tend to look at blocks of text rather than the page as a whole. You can take advantage of that tendency by breaking your text up into smaller paragraphs, aid skimming by using headings, and make sure your keywords are near the beginning of a paragraph.

Within a paragraph, you can further breakup the text by using bullet points and highlighting keywords in bold or italics.

Planning

Before writing any text, plan what you want to say on that page. Start with headings, and use keywords in headings where you can to draw attention to them. Don’t overdo this and stuff headings with as many keywords as possible, this is a sure way to drive visitors away.. Once you have an outline of the page text, fill in the details for each heading.

Fonts

Often usability is sacrificed to the great style gods with unreadable fonts and font sizes. If you make it uncomfortable for visitors to read your web pages, you’ll save yourself a lot of writing time, because your visitors sure aren’t going to stick around.

So choose fonts that are easy on the eye.

Spacing around text

The spacing you choose between characters, words, lines and paragraphs is far more important than you might think. Close set words, with little or no space between lines and paragraphs, or lack of external space around a block of text can significantly reduce both reading speed and comprehension.

These are just a few important points to consider with regard to page usability. We’ll look at other factors such as use of images in a later blog.

 
SiteSuite Website Design - Online Marketing Blog Author Chris Sutton

Co-founder and Managing Director of SiteSuite Australasia, Australian pioneers in web design and ecommerce since 1997. For more from Chris you can follow him on Google+ or Twitter, and for further professional musings and thoughts on his other passions in life, www.chrissutton.com

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