3 easy tips to write better for the web

People don't read on the Internet anymore. They scan.

Attention spans that can only be measured in micro-seconds, together with the never-ending amount of information available online—there are almost a billion websites—mean that you need to grab attentions fast.

Say it quick and say it well.

Even the government has recognised the importance of communicating well. In its guidance 'Writing for GOV.UK', it links to this article: 'How users read on the web' which shows that the majority of web users now pick out individual words and sentences, as opposed to reading in the normal sense of the term.

So how do you engage with them, whether they be lawyers, business people or the public at large?

Here's a few tips how:

Write succinctly and present it well

People want quick answers and will ignore text that rambles on.

Even if text is written well, if the layout and formatting is a 'dog's dinner' then people will move on. Instantly.

According to Time magazine 55% of readers spend fewer than 15 seconds actively on a page. You've not got long.

Accordingly:

  • remove visual clutter
  • vary sentence and paragraph length. By all means get rid of long paragraphs, but equally take care not to break the full stop key on your keyboard by creating hundreds of truncated sentences that read in a gratingly staccato fashion
  • use bullet points. Most ideas can be broken down into them
  • put the most important points first--not everyone will scroll down
  • think creatively. Instead of quoting 'The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (Destruction, Retention and Use of Biometric Data) (Transitional, Transitory and Saving Provisions) (Amendment) Order 2015' why not just say 'new Regulations' and then link to them?

What's more, don't forget that what may look great on a desktop computer:

T&Cs big

Will look quite different on a mobile:

T&Cs small

Keep the post short—within reason

If you are writing a blog post it shouldn't be dissertation (albeit it a slightly more chatty one).

At Comet, we try to aim for about 750 words.

Alas, there is no magic figure as such. Inevitably some blog posts are longer than others given the nature of the material: an article on a new legal development is likely to be longer than one which is simply highlighting a change of staff or a new product. Indeed, our most popular post on the recent ParkingEye case is just shy of 900 words.

Whilst keeping it short is a handy rule of thumb, it is a rule that does not need to be followed slavishly:

  • search engine optimisation (SEO) often prefers longer articles as there are typically more key words that can get picked up by the search engine's web crawlers
  • different styles can mean different lengths, with chattier posts often being longer
  • if you post more often, you may not have the time to do a War and Peace-style post every few days
  • your audience may be quite happy with more detailed posts
  • words aren't the 'be all and end all'. The use of tables, photos or graphics (including infographics) may help to chop down the word count

Why not check out this helpful blog post for more thoughts on this issue: How Long Should Each Blog Post Be? A Data Driven Answer.

https://twitter.com/LexisUK_News/status/643356866844717056/photo/1

Don't forget the heading

Web users love to cold-shoulder dull, unengaging titles.

But they can also spot 'clickbait' a mile off:

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 came into force on 1 October 2015. You won't believe what happened next!

The key in unearthing the perfect headline is therefore to find the sweet spot between stodgy and unprofessional. Rather than, 'Supreme Court opines on the rules against penalties', try: 'ParkingEye v Beavis: Supreme Court drives motorists down dead end'.

Or break the post down into helpful tips, eg: 'Consumer Rights Act 2015: 4 tips to see whether your terms and conditions are ready'.

Another trick is to be a bit playful: 'This post does not affect your statutory rights' (although nothing quite beats this sublime pun courtesy of the Armagh Gazette) or, even better, pique readers' interests: 'Braced for a Brexit? Why lawyers should start thinking about a UK-EU divorce now'.

Many authors spend as long thinking about a good title than writing the piece itself. Personally, I think that this is a tad too far,  but it does show the importance of not ignoring this key component of any article.

So what do you think? How do you engage with clients? Do you have any tips that you'd like to share? Or do you think that communicating via the Web is overrated. Do let us have your thoughts below.

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