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
Marli Mesibov
Job Title
VP, Content Strategy