Design is important, but you can only truly communicate your site’s message if you have a grasp on how to write.
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Hey, web designer! By now, you’ve probably logged plenty of hours designing the look of your site. But what is your site actually saying?
Equally important to a sleek-looking website is the message and delivery of your site—aka, the writing. Clear writing and proper grammar not only tell readers about your business, they give you and your site credibility.
You may not be a professional writer, but if a client asks you to add content—or make existing copy sound better—it’s important to have some skills in your back pocket.
Ready to start writing? Here are a few things to think about:
TONE: Are you designing a site that’s fun and lighthearted with bright colors and round shapes, like an ice cream parlor? Or is your site subtle and serene, like a yoga studio?
Just as the design of your site sets the mood for a visitor’s experience, so does the language you use. Depending on your business and the look of your site, you could adopt a tone that’s upbeat or formal, sincere or ironic.
To help determine the tone of your site, try this exercise: If your site was a physical store, how would you greet customers when they walk through the door?
If you owned a yoga studio, you would probably say something calming, like: “Namaste and Welcome. We’re so very happy to have you.”
On the other hand, if your business was an ice cream parlor, you’d probably greet visitor with something more excited and fun: “Hey, thanks so much for coming by! Want to try our newest flavors?”
Use this to determine the tone of your site.
VOICE: After you’ve figured out your tone, take a day to think about your site’s voice. If you think of tone as the mood of a person, your voice is the character who’s speaking.
If your site was a person, who would it be? A 20-something who wears trendy sneakers and uses Snapchat? Or a 40-year-old intellectual who reads The New Yorker?
Once you identify your site as the embodiment of a person, write in that person’s voice. Word choice, use of slang, and the way you choose to describe your business should all reflect this.
Now that you know your site’s tone and voice, it’s time to begin writing.
CONTENT: Wondering where to start? First things first: tell your business’s story. This is not just a great way to get your writing juices flowing, but it’s the perfect content for your ABOUT page. (Audiences love learning the story behind a business or person.)
While you’re writing your About page, remember: no one wants to read a novel online. Internet readers skim, so the longer your copy, the more chance you’ll lose readers’ attention.
Keep paragraphs short (1-2 sentences), and break them up with spaces (hard returns) in between. Think about writing for the web in small chunks of information. Make sure pages have no more than 3 to 5 paragraphs of copy—tops.
Now it’s time for some general writing rules.
#1: KEEP IT CLEAR.
That means, write the way you speak, not like your freshman year English textbook.
Remember: You’re not trying to impress anyone with your wit or vocabulary, you’re trying to communicate information in the simplest way possible.
Here’s a tip for keeping it simple: Write about your business or site as if you were explaining it to your best friend’s mom. Stay away from jargon only someone in your industry would know. Also, cut out vague terms that don’t mean much, and filler words like “very,” “really,” and “so.”
#2: Know the rules of grammar and punctuation. But don’t be uptight about them.
Sentence fragments may not work for an academic paper, but they can often bring a human voice to the page, or emphasize an idea. Think about it. We often speak in fragments—as long as you’re being clear, it’s ok to use them on your site.
Also, page headers and subheads usually don’t need punctuation, but that’s entirely your call. Whatever you do, keep it consistent throughout your site.
#3: Stay away from cliches and exaggerations.
We’re talking about statements like: “The BEST ICE CREAM EVER” or “Our yoga studio will solve all of your problems.” The truth is, readers can see through bogus claims. If you keep your writing honest and genuine, revealing the true benefits of your business, you develop trust with your audience.
Along those lines: Excited by exclamation points?! We know you love them, but use sparingly. The best writing is honest, and overusing exclamation points can convey a falseness. Save them for declarations that truly ARE exciting!
#4: Edit, edit, edit.
When you’ve gotten through the basic messaging of your site…