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Web Copy That’s Easy to Scan

It’s easy to hold some romantic notion that someone’s going to brew up a mug of coffee, curl up with her laptop on the couch, and browse your web site for a while. Trust me — that never actually happens (except in commercials). If people are visiting your site, they’re there for a reason. As much care and love as we might put into crafting captivating copy, the honest truth is that most visitors won’t actually read it. In reality, they’ll probably scan it for a second or two to see if it’s what they’re looking for, and move on if it’s not.

Create Visual Hierarchy

Creating a consistent visual hierarchy throughout your site gives your readers visual cues to the importance of various elements by using color, contrast, size, and relative placement. You can use style sheets to apply these rules consistently throughout your site.

Make it Easy on the Eyes

Don’t tire reader’s eyes with small type, brash color combinations and wide columns. Conventional print wisdom tells us to use serif fonts for body copy and sans-serif for headlines, but Web Marketing Today’s user survey found that web readers tend to prefer sans-serif fonts. Type vendors have made strides over the last decade to optimize popular fonts for screen readability, but remember this golden rule: you can specify any font in your web pages, but people will only see the fonts actually installed on their computers. For this reason, I usually recommend commonly-installed fonts like Verdana or Arial.

Intro. Body. Conclusion. Repeat.

Remember back to your school days when you first learned to write essays? I can hear the teacher now: “Intro, Body, Conclusion.” Dust off that phrase and hum it like a mantra while you’re writing your web copy. Start by creating outlines — for each page and every paragraph within that page. Intro – Body – Conclusion. Summarize the page content within the first paragraph. Now go back to each paragraph and summarize its content in the first sentence.

Headlines can Build Interest

Legendary adman David Ogilvy once stated that “four out of five people don’t read past the headline, so when you’ve written your headline, you’ve spent eighty cents of your ad dollar.” Though you may feel you’ve spent lots of time fine-tuning your copy, it’s time to go a step further and give your paragraphs a heading. Your first aim is to summarize content, but if you can tease readers’ interest, that’s even better. Why not ask a question to be answered by the subsequent paragraph? (And while you’re at it, see if you can use one of your key search terms in the heading or subheads to boost rankings).

Practice Makes Perfect

Like many art forms, writing effective web copy is a skill that grows with use. You don’t have to change your site’s copy all at once. I recommend starting with your most visible pages and working your way through the rest of your site applying these principles. Creating an easy-to-scan site enables visitors to find what they’re looking for, read what’s most important, and get further into your content-rich site without feeling bogged down.

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