One of the most common mistakes of web copy is that it is too long. There have been several studies showing people read a lot less on the web and will leave a site if they cannot find what they are looking for. Pages that scroll and scroll are unlikely to be read. Instead place a link to a downloadable .pdf file.
To accommodate for different reading practices use whitespace to delineate sections or headings of content. Spacing content out will allow readers to quickly scan through content to find what they are looking for.
The practice of reading on the web is very different from traditional printed matter. Users scan the page seeking what they are looking for in titles and lists. For that reason it is a good idea to highlight sections and subsections of the page using headings. This will allow the reader to quickly find what they are looking for.
Particularly in large information based sites a one to two sentence summary at the top of the page is of great benefit to the user. They will quickly be able to see if the page content is relevant to them.
Ordered and unordered lists are a good way present copy on the web. They can provide users with a concise and scannable list of options open to them. Threading links to relevant content in your copy is also a good way to allow the user to find information quickly.
Design elements can significantly increase the power of your copy. It is quicker for a user to recognise a section of copy if there is an icon associated with it. This also has advantages for users with cognitive difficulties who can use the icons as a guide. Do not go overboard but when used discreetly icons can improve your copy and the usability of your website as a whole.
Good copy is useless without users being able to read it. Ensuring the text is dark and on a white background is important. Make sure that users can resize the text if they want to. For longer articles many readers will also want to print off the article. Make sure you use a print stylesheet so that the copy formats well when printed.
Understanding how XHTML works in terms of the markup can greatly inform your content and search engines will love you for it. Putting some time into understanding XHTML will allow you to structure your content for delivery on the web. It makes sense for search engines but also for users who appreciate structured copy.
Avoid stating the obvious to users. “Click here” or “Follow this link” can be replaced by linking a word within the content. Users understand that more content is further down the page so you do not need to tell them to scroll down for more in the copy.
Finally and most importantly consider what users are looking for your site. Generally there will be two or three key tasks that they want to perform. Provide clear and concise copy to direct users to these tasks. Avoid lengthy copy that focusses on the internal structure of the company. Generally users are not interested in Executive Biographies so focus on the user and not the internal mechanics of your company.
Have an update or suggestion for this article? You can edit it here and send me a pull request.