Insights

Best Practices When Writing for the Web

When there’s no time or budget to work with a content strategist, research the target audience, and define a specific company voice, there are still some basic rules writers and designers can follow to make sure that web copy is clear, concise, and compelling.

Write for the user

  • Web copy is a conversation. Keep in mind the persona or user you are having the conversation with.
  • Delete any sentences that are for your organization and not for the user. When adding information about your organization, think, “How will this information benefit the user?”
  • After reading a sentence, identify whether you actively want to read the next. If you don’t, rewrite the previous sentence.
  • Consider the user’s context. Don’t assume they are using a laptop and mouse – they might be on a phone, in which case they are tapping, not clicking.
  • Never assume the user has the same cultural and educational background as you, the writer.

Clear, concise language

  • Get to the point in the first sentence.
  • Keep paragraphs to three sentences or fewer.
  • Test the “readability” of copy with Hemingway or Readability Score.
  • Put copy away for 3 days and then reread it to make sure it is coherent.

Voice and tone

  • When in doubt, write in plain language. Always avoid jargon.
  • Aim for consistency. All content across your website, email, and social media must sound as though it is coming from the same person or entity.
  • Come up with an example of what the voice should sound like, and an example of what the voice should not sound like.
  • All content should provoke a reaction. Identify the reaction you want to provoke before writing a sentence.

Wireframes and visual design

  • Lorem Ipsum kills puppies. Also, it takes away from the value of a design. Avoid it at all costs.
  • Make sure links are complete sentences that describe where the user is going. Never ever “click here.”
  • Make use of microcopy in forms, including help text.

Format and accessibility

  • Headers should divide the content into sections, make copy more accessible to screen readers, and make it easier for people in a hurry to skim and understand the content. Therefore, headers need to be descriptive enough to make sense out of context.
  • Bold or italicize particularly important words or phrases, to grab attention.
  • All images need alt tags and/or captions for accessibility.
  • Include an explanation for any diagrams.
  • Videos need text transcripts or captions.

Links and buttons

  • Choose one primary call to action that is more important than the others. This will likely be displayed as a button.
  • All other options should be links or in some other way demonstrably less important.
  • Link copy should be sentences or phrases that will make sense out of context. For example “Share this article on Twitter” instead of “Share.”
  • Button copy should be no more than 4 words long. If possible, button copy should also make sense out of context. For example “Share on Twitter” instead of “Share.”
Contributed by
Name
Marli Mesibov
Job Title
VP, Content Strategy