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How To Be ‘Really Well Prepared’ To Write Great Web Content

UX Planet — Medium | Guy Ligertwood

What to consider before you start writing your web copy

Writing for the web

Recently I did a writing for the web course with Open 2 Study. Here are my notes on what to consider before you start writing content for your website.

There are 4 key pillars to consider before writing your content:

1. Introduction

  • The 6 main elements of good web design

2. Your Users/Readers

  • How users read on the web
  • Who are your users/readers?
  • Understanding your users needs and behaviours
  • Understanding your users context of use

3. Your Stakeholders

  • Understanding your business/stakeholders objectives

4. Your Content

  • Your content needs purpose
  • Accessible content
  • Search engine optimisation

Everyone wants a conversation. They want inspiration. Inspire people with your website. Don’t just interrupt but interact.

(Kevin Roberts)

Introduction: 6 main elements of good web design

There are lots of things to consider before you start creating your website. Here are the main elements that will help you create a useful and accessible website for you users.

1. User and business needs

Start by identifying who your users are. You can then find out what your users and business want to get out of the website.

2. Brand

The visual design and the content communicate the brand to the user of your website. The brand is first defined so the visual design and the content can follow your brand guidelines.

3. Information architecture (IA)

Here you need to set out the hierarchy of information for your website. You need to structure your content so people can navigate in a usable manner. Information architecture connects people to your content.

User + Context + Content = Information Architecture

4. Interaction design

This focuses on the behaviour of your device or product. It sets out where all the elements will be on your website. A wireframe works well to flesh this out.

Interaction design is the creation of a dialogue between a person and a designer artifcact- a product, service, or system.

5. Visual Design

This is a step up from the wireframe. It adds colours, typography, images and style to your website.

Problems with visual design can turn users off so quickly that they never discover all the smart choices you made with navigation or interaction design.

(Jess James Garrett)

6. Content

The content is crucial to the usability of your website. Content covers a range of things, but is usually anything that can be consumed and shared. It’s not only the words and includes what you see below.

Image from Visionary Marketing

There is nothing to writing, all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

(Ernest Hemingway)

Your Users: How do people read on the web?

They scan and they snack. Jakob Nielson’s research study found that people scan in an F-shaped pattern reading down the page.

Users normally start top left of the page, then read along a main heading. They then scan down the left hand side of the page looking for something interesting. Once found they read across from left to right and then scan down the left had side. This then forms the F-shaped pattern of web reading.

Make sure you consider this reading pattern when putting together your content. For a more detailed look at the F-shaped pattern Nick Babich has a great article on it.

Your Users: Who are they?

You need to put yourself in the shoes of your users, to be able to create content that will be useful for them.

You need to find out about your users: What age are they? Where do they live? How old are they? What are the education levels of your users? What do they want to get out of your website?

You need to think about access issues: Do your users have slow internet or no internet at all? Do your users your have disabilities that you need to consider.

Create personas to bring your users to life: Personas give a face to the people using your site.

Personas are fictional, generalised characters that encompass the various needs, goals, and observed behaviour patterns among your real and potential customers. They help you understand your customers better.

(Hubspot Academy)

It’s up to you how many details you add to your personas. An image is useful so the persona can be brought to life for the team.

Your Users: Understanding their needs and behaviours

You need to find out lots of information about your users to create content that they’re going to find useful.

How to find out your users needs

  1. Talk to work colleagues if there’s no budget: Your colleagues may have some great insights about the users needs.
  2. Talk to people in the business who talk to users: For example if your business has a call centre, you’ll get great insights listening to their calls.
  3. Talk to your users: Recruit people with an incentive to come in and do testing on your website. If you choose the same type of users as you personas you’ll gather lots of useful insights.
  4. Look at Google Analytics: Here you can find out where users are going on your website and the frequency. If you’re not familiar with Google Analytics there is a great course by Google for beginners.
  5. Add a survey into your existing website: Here you can ask your users questions about their likes and dislikes. It’s a great way to get feedback when you are users are actually on your site. Survey Monkey have an article that shows you how you can add a survey to your website.

From all of this you will find out what people like and dislike about your website. You will also hopefully be able to find out what your website is missing.

Your Users: Understanding their context of use

The context of use is the conditions under which a product is used in a normal everyday situation.

  • When are people using you website (time of day and day of week).
  • Where are people using your website (bus, car, home, walking etc).
  • What device are people using (mobile, tablet, desktop etc).

People often look no further than the above. It’s important you look a bit deeper and dig into the following:

  • How comfortable are your users? If they’re uncomfortable, as your website looks bad on their mobile phone they won’t hang around for long.
  • What is their emotional state? If they find the user interface complicated they’ll be frustrated and leave.
  • How much time do they have? If you waste the users time they’ll leave your website and move to a site that’s easier to use.
  • Who influences the user? Friends, family and social networks can all influence people thoughts about your website and its content.

Talk to your users

To find out about the context of use, you’ll need to speak to your users to find out when they’re using your site. You can do this while doing usability testing, prototype testing, surveys or workshops.

Customise your website based on:

  • the user journey
  • user actions
  • and the user experience

Don’t make assumptions

It’s important you don’t make assumptions when thinking about the context of use. If someone’s on a mobile phone it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re on the move, they could be sitting on their sofa at home.

Your stakeholders: Understanding their objectives

You know the users for your website, what they need and their context of use. Now you need to find out who your stakeholders are. This should be pretty clear but people can be left out.

They could be:

  • Marketing
  • Financial
  • Customer Service
  • Subject matter experts
  • Owners
  • People who have a vested interest etc.

Stakeholder mapping

Stakeholder mapping is an important step in understanding who your key stakeholders are. You need to get the necessary people onboard with what you’re doing. This is a great way to make sure that no stakeholder is left out of the process.

Stakeholders for a ski resort lift company

Questions you need to ask your stakeholders:

  • What does success look like for them?
  • What are their goals for the website?

You need to balance the user needs and the business needs. Both groups needs to be catered for to get the best result.

Your Content: Give your writing purpose

You know the users and what they want from your website. You also know the stakeholders and their goals for the website.

Now before you start writing for your website you to need find out the purpose of the content. To make your website useful every piece of content needs to have a purpose.

Your content needs to:

  • Inform
  • Educate
  • Entertain

Use your personas to make sure that you’re writing content that’s right for your users. This’ll make sure that your content has the correct purpose.

Words transform. Speak only with a good purpose.

(Robert G. Allen)

Your Content: Consider making it accessible

It’s really important that you think about your users that may have accessibility issues.

This includes the following:

Vision impairment

Vision impairment is defined as a limitation of one or more functions of the eye (or visual system).

The most common vision impairments affect:

  • The sharpness or clarity of vision (visual acuity)
  • The normal range of what you can see (visual fields)
  • Colour

Motor impairment

Motor impairment is the partial or total loss of function of a body part, usually a limb or limbs. This may result in muscle weakness, poor stamina, lack of muscle control, or total paralysis. Motor impairment is often evident in neurological conditions such a cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, stroke and multiple sclerosis (Neuromodulation).

Dyslexia

Dyslexia (also known as reading disorder) is characterised by trouble with reading despite normal intelligence. Different people are affected to varying degrees. Problems may include difficulties in spelling words, reading quickly, writing words, “sounding out” words in the head, pronouncing words when reading aloud and understanding what one reads (Wikipedia).

Colour blindness

Colour blindness occurs when you are unable to see colours in a normal way. Most commonly, colour blindness (also known as colour deficiency) happens when someone cannot distinguish between certain colours, usually between greens and reds, and occasionally blues (American Academy of Opthalmology).

A few types of colour blindness

You Content: A few ways to make it accessible

There are a few ways you can improve your content for people with accessibility issues:

Alt text

The main purpose of alt text is to describe images to people when they’re not compatible and can’t be seen. It gives a description of what they should see on the page.

Screen readers

A screen reader is for people with visual impairment who want to use your websites. It’s a software application that enables people with severe visual impairments to use a computer (Nomensa).

Screen readers convert digital text into synthesised speech (the artificial production of human speech). They allow users to hear content and navigate with the keyboard. The technology helps people who are blind or who have low vision to use information technology with the same level of independence and privacy as anyone else (Webaim).

Content on an image

Only do this if the image is very dark, otherwise it can be tough to see for certain people.

Video captioned

Having a transcript means people can read the content if they have hearing problems.

Accessibility checkers

When you’re writing draft content in Microsoft Word there’s an accessibility checker which can check your contents accessibility.

Microsoft Word

Your Content: Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

A search engine is a web-based tool that enables users to locate information on the world wide web. Google, Bing and Yahoo are current popular examples of search engines.

Keywords

When creating your content you want to optimise it for search engines with good keywords. Your SEO keywords are the words and phrases in your web content that make it possible for people to find your site via search engines. A website that is well optimised for search engines “speaks the same language” as its visitors. Having the correct keywords will make it easier for users to find your website.

Search engines love:

  • Page titles: This is not to be confused with the page heading. This title tag as it’s also known should contain important keywords to help search engines determine what your page is about.

  • Page headings: Good to have these relevant to what people are searching.
  • Links: Search engines seem to have preference for sites with links. These links take the user out to other websites.
  • New and updated content: This will works well for your websites SEO. It’ll boost the ranking that your website gets in search engines.
  • Topical content: Content that is relevant to what is currently happening in the world can be very helpful to your website’s search engine rankings.
  • Unique content: If your website has content that is nowhere else on the World Wide Web then this is a advantage to your ranking.
  • What’s in the URL: Here is where you type in the website domain name. Keywords in here if possible are a good idea.

Don’t focus too much on SEO

SEO is important but don’t spend too much time focused on it. The needs of the user are the most important factors. Focus on making the content useful, accessible, accurate and based on the users needs.

Focus on making the content useful, accessible, accurate and based on the users needs.

Learn more about SEO

Learn SEO basics with this 1 hour tutorial with Udemy

✅ Checklist:

Your Users/Readers

  • How do they read?
  • Who are they?
  • What are their needs?
  • Where and when are they reading your website?

Your Stakeholders

  • What are their objectives?

Your Content

  • Needs purpose
  • Should be accessible
  • SEO friendly

Writing for the web resources

50+ articles on writing for the web by the Nielson Norman Group.

Thanks to John Duncan for the proofread 👍

If you enjoyed this, have a read of my other UX articles:

New to UX Design? Feeling Overwhelmed?

UX Writing: How to do it like Google with this powerful checklist

UX Design For Your Life

24 Ways to Look Like an Awesome UX Designer

51 Research Terms You Need to Know as a UX Designer

53 Tech Terms You Need to Know as a UX Designer

How to become a UX Designer at 40 with no digital or design experience

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How To Be ‘Really Well Prepared’ To Write Great Web Content was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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