DESIGN & WEB
The World Wide Web:
A Writer’s Guide from a Design Guy
Jonathan D. Spiliotopoulos, Partner
29 March 2017
When you structure your content correctly, you’ll maximize the amount of text people read. And when you improve the readability of that text, you’ll increase both comprehension and retention. As a bonus, when you do both, your SEO score will increase naturally.
Structuring your Content
As early as 1997, the Nielsen Normal Group reported that web users don’t read copy.
Their advice at the time — long before SEO became the buzzword that it is today — was this:
- Write overt headlines and subheadlines
- Ditch promotional or “clever” writing styles
- Include and highlight relevant keywords
- Link to credible sources
In short, help users skim your text so they can find what they’re looking for.
Subsequent studies showed that:
- Users read 20% of what you write, on average
- The first paragraph on a page is considered the most important
- The first sentence in each paragraph is considered the next most important
- Engagement drops off swiftly the further down a user scrolls through a single topic
Once you’ve properly structured your content, the next step is to maximize its readability. Why? Because you don’t want to lose people when you finally have them.
You can do this by:
- Increasing white space
- Increase line spacing
- Don’t write text walls
- Write at an 8th grade reading level for B2C
- Write at a 12th grade reading level for B2B
- Include only 50-60 characters per line
- Put paragraphs into a column and choose an appropriate font size for that column.
- Make sure bulleted lists are lists and not portions of a full sentence.
In an era in which everybody is a content developer — when we’re all blogging, publishing case studies and white papers online, engaging audiences on social media, populating detailed knowledge bases, FAQs, and more — we often wonder why our readers still haven’t gotten the memo, and are largely clueless in spite of our best efforts to educate, inform, and entertain.
But maybe it’s we who haven’t gotten the memo.
About the Author
Jonathan D. Spiliotopoulos is a Partner with O’Brien Communications Group (www.obriencg.com), a business-to-business brand-management and marketing communication firm with responsibilities ranging from brand creation and creative concepting, to graphic design, web development, and more. He's also an experienced teacher/trainer, presenter, a newbie dad, and is active in a number of communities and forums — online and in the real world — dedicated to helping others achieve their goals.