Keeping it simply simple
In today’s world, everything appears to move at an astounding rate, and nothing seems to travel faster than communications. If something major happens, we get to hear about it within seconds of its occurrence. The same is to be said for the acquirement of knowledge. We no longer need to read an instruction manual, or seek expert advice about a particular problem, we head straight for Google and have the information within seconds. This has led us to a way of life where we want information at our fingertips, and we want it now. If you are writing for the web, then you need to be aware of how you get your information across to your audience. What might appear to be a well-presented and written article could be a waste of time, unless you understand how people use web based business communications.
According to research carried out by the website usability guru Jacob Nielsen, ‘in the online world of web pages, you have 10 seconds in which to convince your visitor to stay and read more. Within the first few seconds, they will quickly examine your web page and see if it might contain the information they require. The first 20 seconds of a person’s visit are critical if you want them to do more than just quickly look at your landing page.’
The good news is if you can convince them to stay on the page for around 30 seconds, they could stay on the site for over 2 minutes. Which should be enough time to motivate them towards your call to action.
So, what can you do to improve your business webpage, and get your important information across to the visitor within the first 10 seconds?
Firstly, you need to make sure that your most important information is at the top of the page. Hoping that the visitor will scroll down to see what is at the bottom of your informative web page just is not going to work. Print media found this out a long time ago. If they put their best story at the top of the first page, the newspaper would sell more. They still use this system, today. Have a big headline that draws the reader towards wanting to know more, and then providing the rest of the information lower down the page, or on a page within the paper. If you look at how newspapers are sold, they are normally folded in half, with the main headline showing. If the headline and associated images draw the interest of a person then they are likely to purchase the paper to find out more information about the article. Known in the print industry as ‘above the fold’ the same practice needs to be done when writing for the web. Think of ‘above the fold’ being the screen you see without scrolling down. You need your main message above the fold. If your audience need to know, more they will scroll or click their way to the additional content.
One great tip that will help you get the information across to your audience quickly is to use images, and have a strong headline that relates to your information.
Once you have convinced your web visitor to stay on your page for over 10 seconds, your next task is to get them to stay an additional 20 seconds more. This could be where the quality of your written communications start to be significant.
One of the biggest mistakes that people make is trying to show their authority of a subject by using words that they feel make them sound like an expert. You need to write your communication to the intended audience, or you will not pass the 20-second test.
If you’re writing a blog post where the audience will be mainly medical professionals specialising in afflictions of the heart, then using words such as Atrial Fibrillation, Hypertension, and Myocardial infarction, might be more appropriate and easier for them to understand than using simpler, less technical words. If however you were writing for an audience of medical patients then you would probably be better using words that they would find easier to understand, such as. Irregular Heart Rate, High Blood Pressure, and Heart Attack. Write for your audience and do not try to impress them with technical words that might take longer for your reader to process. Relate your writing to your audience and use simple and easy to understand language that will keep your reader engaged and lead them to your call to action.
You may be great at creative writing, and people might love reading short stories that you have produced. However, web based business communications are not about being flamboyant with language. You need to be precise, and to the point. Do not use unnecessary words, complex words, and do not even think about using metaphors that will confuse and slow down your reader as they consume your words in an attempt to satisfy their hunger for information. Keep it simple.
Choosing simple words that get the message across quickly means that your reader will be able to skim through you copy and find the relevant information with ease. Which is exactly what you want if you are guiding them towards a set goal.
To check that your writing is legible it is good measure to use the Flesch–Kincaid scale. This checks your written work and gives it a readability score. For a web-based written communications, you should be looking at aiming for grade level of around eight, and a readability score between 60 and 70. This blog post has a grade level of 8.8, and a readability score of 65.8. So should be understandable by most people. If you want to find how your writing compares then visit www.readabilityscore.com
A quick summary
- You have ten seconds to prove to your web visitor that your site contains the information they want
- Make sure your main information is ‘above the fold’
- Images and strong headlines will help you get your audience past the first ten seconds
- Do not try to impress people with complex words
- Use language that is relevant to your audience
- Check your readability score before publishing
This guide is relevant to online business communications; there are slightly different rules that apply if you are writing an online blog. I will cover these in a future post.
Jacob Nielsen, NNG Group https://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-long-do-users-stay-on-web-pages/