So, you’re looking at a page on your website, and you know the text is too long. How can you make the message more effective?
For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume the page describes a product or service you want to promote, since that’s usually the kind of page on which you’ll need to avoid boring the reader if you want them to become a customer, but much of this article applies to almost any type of page.
There are several reasons why they might be on your page. For instance:
- They encountered an interesting promotional item or received a recommendation, in which case they may be visiting your site for the first time.
- This is a return visit—they already visited your site or did business with your company in the past.
- They found the page via a search engine. If so, it will help if you know whether they searched for the name of your product or for a more generic term, such as “cheap cameras.” (Future articles in this blog will look at how SEO and SEM can help you with this.)
Your text, or at least the initial presentation of it, should work for all audiences, without becoming cluttered or diluted—and if that seems impossible, you may need alternate versions of the page for different readers. But let’s not go there yet.
Easy to Scan?
Regardless of the reason for your reader’s visit, they’ll probably only skim your text—that’s just how most people read web content. You can usually reformat some of your text into a list like the one above, instantly making it more scannable, especially if you format key items as bold text to help catch the reader’s eye. This is a great way to get key points across, and is more appealing than a long, dense paragraph from which it’s difficult to quickly extract information.
Readers will often abandon a page if they don’t quickly see evidence that it’s what they’re looking for. Therefore, don’t force them to read several paragraphs before they get what they need—chances are they won’t, so cut the fluff.
Where applicable, write in the ‘inverted pyramid’ style employed by many journalists to clearly state the subject matter right from the start, so readers are assured the page contains what they want before going into the finer details. And if it’s not what they want, that’s fine—they’re not your target audience anyway, so why waste their time? That said, if it’s likely they may be looking for another page on your site, it’s wise to offer a link to that other page—hopefully they’ll notice it before they leave the current page.
You may feel that your page needs to contain a lot of information, such as technical specifications. That may be true for certain products, but you don’t have to show everything at once. Consider using visual techniques such as dividing information into tabs or making sections expandable or collapsible, thereby allowing readers to navigate to and discover the details that most interest them. Treat the initial view of your page as an area that directs readers to the information they want, rather than trying to cover absolutely everything.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words—could a photo or chart help trim your text? Even if it couldn’t, images are often a useful way to make a long page of text more appealing. But perhaps what a picture can’t say can be said in a video. Many people would rather watch a two-minute video explaining something to them than spend two minutes reading the same information as text.
What About SEO?
Search engine optimization is probably important to you, and that’s a whole other article (or ten). Obviously build your text around important keywords, but not at the expense of readability. Readers are turned off by clumsy repetition of keywords—it reads badly, and may even suggest the writer has a limited vocabulary. Writing longer pages in order to incorporate more keywords will backfire because even if people can find the page more easily, they’ll probably just think, “I don’t have time for this,” and leave.
That said, you will potentially be forfeiting a certain amount of SEO if you simply replace large amounts of text with images or video, so it’s important to strike a good balance for the best results, and you may need to experiment to find that balance.
Short, Shorter, Shortest
OK, so you finished editing your text and reduced your word count. Now, take a break, then come back and do it again. You can probably make it even shorter. If you can’t imagine how yet, leave it for a day or two, then return to it with fresh eyes. Why? Because more and more people could be reading your text on their phone or other mobile device. Potentially faced with slower download times, a frustratingly limited interface, or even just a whole lot going on around them because they’re not sat at a quiet desk, people have even less time and patience than you might expect when you’re editing at your computer.
For the ultimate test, go grocery shopping, imagine you suddenly have to find out about the subject of your page on your smartphone, and see how it reads—while keeping an eye out for great deals in the grocery store. You might think that’s ridiculous, and maybe it is, but… it’ll certainly highlight any remaining fluff. Be ruthless!