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Writing for the web, less is more

My passion is web usability and there are many factors at play when it comes to this topic. One large factor that shouldn’t be overlooked is how to write for the web. Your site can follow all the right principles and then lose the reader right at the critical moment when they get to the final content. Users generally tend to skim when reading online and it’s important to keep content short and to the point. The less words you use, the better. Simply put – less is more.


Breaking content into smaller chunks is key. Shorter sentences and paragraphs are easier to digest and scan. Bullet points are a great way to visually separate content and keep text to a minimum. Adding visual elements such as call out boxes also helps to chunk out content and draw attention to key points. Using headings is another key way to chunk out content for the reader.

Visual Elements Help

Additional ways to chunk out content and make it easily readable:

  • Bold, italicize, or underline key words
  • Use color, when appropriate
  • Add graphics and images
  • Use white space

Online is different than print!

Content that is laid out in a print document such as a PDF may look great, short and to the point, but many times doesn’t translate to the the web. Web sites often have a lot of real estate that is taken up by top and side navigation or a template that limits the page width. Because of this, a paragraph that takes up 3 or 4 lines in a printed document may take up 5 or 6 lines on a screen. This reinforces the point of why you should be brief. I’ll repeat – less is more.

Screen size, resolution, browser, device type, and personal settings also affect the way a page displays. Print is much more consistent. If you pick up 5 copies of the same magazine you are all but guaranteed to be sure the layout, colors, page count, and all visual elements are completely identical. The bottom line is that you can’t control the way a web page displays in the same way that you can control a printed page. But, you can control how you layout your page content, the length of your sentences, and your overall word count, which reinforces why the principles above are so important.

A tweet = 140 characters

Additionally, people approach online content in a different manner than printed material. People have been conditioned that print material such as a magazine article may be several pages long, but with the popularity of social media, tweets, facebook feeds, and the like people have become accustomed to short snippets of information. People expect online content to be brief. If you tweet then you already know how much information you can get across with limited words. Tweets aren’t even measured in words, they are measured in characters.

How short is 140 characters? It’s super short. The paragraph above is 542 characters, including spaces. That’s about the equivalent of 4 tweets. Here is the above paragraph in 140 characters:

Online is diff than print. Print is long, ppl expect online to be brief. If yr on Twitter you know how much you can say in a 140 char tweet.

Of course you aren’t going to write a page in a series of tweet formatted sentences, but it helps to keep this in mind for a couple reasons. For one, it helps puts you in the mindset of the reader rather than the writer. For two, it reinforces that less is more. If you can get your point across in 7 words instead of 10, you have to ask yourself do I really need those 3 words?


The Mad Men Approach to Site Promotion

Are you looking to promote a page, a news article or blog entry? Are your site pages not getting the hits you would like them to?  These are common questions that I face in my job on a daily basis. I manage an Intranet site that gets an enormous amount of hits on the home page, but let’s just say not an enormous amount of hits on many of the news articles and pages that my team maintains. Why is that? A lot of reasons. The home page is the default page when colleagues open a new browser, so it’s a given that page will have a lot of hits.  However, many people are opening a browser because they have a specific page or task they’re looking to accomplish, so they often overlook the articles or news items that are promoted on the home page, and click off immediately.  People are also creatures of habit and often look at the pages and resources they are most familiar with, and they don’t always look at the new items we are continually producing.

So, how can we get them to notice the items and pages we know are important and want to promote?  The answer is in the last word – promote! Similar to real estate where the key is location, location, location, the same can be said for article, page, and blog promotion – promote in the locations you know colleagues are already viewing. In the advertising world if you were developing a new tv ad for a men’s product such as a pickup truck you would target the places where you would get the most exposure – a football game, a baseball game, etc… You also wouldn’t advertise just once and expect an immediate result.  You would make a plan and advertise over a particular time period, knowing that repeated exposure will bring long term results.

Communications and Marketing professionals can take the same approach to site promotion whether it is an internal or external website.  Cross promotional ads on related pages with high viewership will ultimately bring in more people. In my case, it would be great if we could put up one banner on our Intranet homepage and get 10,000 clicks right on the first day, but that doesn’t correspond to people’s work habits. The best way to hits is to advertise and promote in a variety of places for a sustained period of time.  People may miss it for the first or second time, but are less likely to miss it the 22nd or 23rd time.  And yes, I know 22 or 23 places is a bit overkill, but placing it in 5 or 6 strategic places that people visit 3 or 4 times daily will easily get you 15-20 plus exposure points in one day alone.

Direct manipulation: what is it?

“Direct manipulation is an interaction style in which the objects of interest in the UI are visible and can be acted upon via physical, reversible, incremental actions that receive immediate feedback. “

Check out this article from the Nielsen Norman group to learn more:

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