According to Ask.com, a recent study by the Pew Research Center found that more than three-quarters of all Americans expect to find information about a company, government agency or non-profit organization on the Web. That means that the majority of your nonprofit’s stakeholders expect to find current, relevant and thorough information about your organization on your website. And a number of potential clients, volunteers – and donors – will visit your website to determine if they want to build a relationship with you.
Therefore, you need to make sure that your website is not only visually easy to navigate but also written from the perspective of your web visitors. Provide them with information that helps them quickly determine what services they need or in which ways they can best support your work.
The Medium: Print vs. Web
Many people approach Web writing the same way they approach writing for print, but the medium of the Internet is completely different.
In print, the form of the printed material provides context. For example, if information comes to you in pamphlet vs. flyer form, you can make assumptions about the immediacy, specificity and privacy of the information.
Print also provides the reader with the ability to easily and quickly scan a page and go back to earlier pages to review it for context. Additionally, print material provides a clear source, or reference, for the information. That clarity about the source determines the “trust” factor for the reader.
On the Web, reading is perceptually harder, with visitors to your site processing Web information read 25 percent more slowly than they can read your printed materials. This leads to reader fatigue.
On top of this, when someone arrives on a webpage, especially if from a search, there may be limited context with which to help in processing the information. And, of course, the reverse of the “trust” factor mentioned above happens on the Web. (It is the “World Wide Web.”)
Control for the Medium with Solid Content
Lead with Clarity
- Mention (or subtly imply) your target audience near the top of your webpage.
- Link to your website’s homepage from individual pages in multiple ways.
- Make the intent of the material obvious. Are you providing general information, answering a question, etc.?
- Get right to the point. Avoid long, interesting opening paragraphs used in print.
Simple Is Better
When writing for the Web, use text that is succinct and focused.
- Use short words, sentences and paragraphs. Leave the “big words,” compound sentences and endless paragraphs for your printed materials. (And you might want to avoid them there also, but that’s another article.)
- Lead with your main point. Provide 2 to 3 sentences to quickly get to your main point.
- Use bold and/or italics for important words and terms.
- Use in-line links instead of more copy.
- Write your piece ... Then cut: Only keep information without which your meaning is lost.
Don’t Forget Search Engines
In addition to making your Web writing accessible for your website visitors, write to increase your search ranking – critical to ensuring the most – and most appropriate – visitors to your nonprofit’s site.
- Choose a meaningful title for your page (2-4 words if it’s part of a larger title).
- Make sure your opening paragraph provides a clear and accurate page description. It is the information that will be displayed in search results.
- Use focused, structured, usable content with links.
You will want to structure your information in a way that makes it easier for your visitors to follow.
- Most general content pages should be one to two screenfuls (200-400 words).
- Some content merits lengthier pages. For example, articles like this one are easier for visitors to follow if all on one page.
- Break up paragraphs with clear headings, which reflect content (in-line or regular).
- Use bullets or numbered lists so that visitors can scan the information quickly (remember that Web reading is 25 percent lower).
- Use subheads and captions to break up text.
- Inbound links (within text) help drive traffic to your nonprofit’s site and establish you as trustworthy. However, users may miss these, so duplicate links at page end.
- Outbound links cause users to rely on you as a resource and increase your website’s “credibility” with search engines.
- “Click here” should be used rarely, if ever. Instead make a simple word or phrase “hot.”
Worth the Effort
While maintaining your nonprofit’s website takes a lot of thought, time, energy, money and more, beginning with clear, simple and accessible writing is the first – and most critical – step to making it effective.
Tell us what tips and tricks you use to make your website writing its best.