I spend a good amount of time each week designing websites. As I do I am beginning to realize more and more that copy writing is as much a major part of the project as the design itself.

I can do my best to create a site that is visually pleasing, guides the reader and helps promote the website’s cause, agenda or business as best that I can. But, if the copy that is put on the site is poor…the site will be ineffective no matter how pretty my design.

So, I’m trying to learn as much as a I can on this stuff so that I can help my customers better. The problem comes when they just don’t believe me that the only person who will read what they just wrote is them, their employees and their possibly mother.

I came across an article today from the A List Apart website today a quote there sums it up perfectly:

“Web users are not a captive audience. Don’t treat them like one.”

It’s true. Think about it, when you visit a website, do you read long paragraphs of text with really complicated, smart sounding words in it? Most organizations love their descriptive, “in house” language. But users, when they visit a site, they just want to know what you do, how you do it and why it matters to them, all in plain English. They don’t want to have to work for that information because if they have to, they probably won’t.

Here are some practices that make me actually want to read your website instead of just look at it:

Use headings and subheadings effectively: I have found when I visit a new site, I scan the headings to see which sections I want to read. If I don’t see any headings and its a long page, I often just don’t read.

Keep Paragraphs Short: This is probably the most second important to my reading after looking for headings. I have a hard time reading long paragraphs of text on the web. Chances are you can cut out 1/2 the paragraph text and still say the same thing. Chances are when you do that, I will read it.

iLove Lists: Seriously, when I am skimming a site I always stop on lists. I’ll bet you read the first paragraph on this post and the bold titles in this list. If they catch your interest, maybe you will read the rest of the post.

Use links effectively: This probably is more for blogs. But for some reason when I visit a blog and I see links my eyes go to them first. This is probably because the links are in a different color and highlighted. If i don’t see any interesting links, I generally won’t really read the entry.

Write on a 4th 8th Grade level: This is probably more true for business websites and for churches. But, even for blogs this could be helpful. If you want your site to have wide appeal, don’t use big words. I’ve heard this tip from a number of different places.

Don’t Be Boring: This suggestion comes from the article I’ll link to below. Just because your writing it short doesn’t mean it has to be boring!

Those are just a few thoughts off the top of my head…

Of course, now that I have said this, I need to schedule some time to take a look at our Church website and see how the copy I have written there goes against everything I have just said… feel free to let me know how I have done so far…

Oh, and now I am wondering if anyone is actually reading this post!

* Here’s another article worth a read if you are interested in this topic: Attack of the Zombie Copy

* Hat tip to Matt Heerema for the links and to these articles and others I have read over the years for the ideas. I am not sure any of them are original with me.