I think that the idea of a first date is a pretty reasonable analogy for a visitor’s first time on your website.
Imagine the numerous potential pitfalls of a first date: a giant wedge of food stuck between teeth, an inappropriate laugh at a story about your date’s grandmother because you weren’t really listening anyway, downing too many glasses of wine to hide the nerves and ending up an incomprehensible mess. There are just so many things that you can do wrong, all of which could result in disaster: no second date.
Making a good first impression on your site visitors, like first dates, is important if you want to be taken seriously. Your professional online presence can easily be undermined by a few, easy to fix, errors in your written web content.
Keep reading to see how to avoid turning off your audience and how to guarantee a second date (and see just how far it’s possible for me to stretch this metaphor).
Ugly blocks of text
It’s striking to see how many websites still force readers through long unbroken paragraphs. One of the first rules of web writing is that you shouldn’t put digital content in the same category as writing for print. Very few people will read every single word on your website. Any given page is very seldom read from top to bottom.
Most visitors are on your website to hunt down a particular bit of information, don’t make it difficult for them by hiding what they want in a long uninviting paragraph. This is almost guaranteed to cause your visitor to run for the hills.
- As a web content writer, the white space on a webpage is your friend. So long as it’s concise and accurate, the less web content on your site the better.
- Make sure the key points you’re trying to convey are easy for the reader to find. Break up long paragraphs. Remove unnecessary words. Guide people to what they need with plenty of headings and bulleted lists.
Inconsistent written style
Inconsistencies throughout written content can seriously damage the professional image of your website. It’s a problem that is often overlooked when writing for the web.
Little, annoying inconsistencies can include:
- date formats appearing differently throughout your site (i.e. 1 Jan 1980, 01/01/1980, 1st January 1980)
- inconsistent heading styles
- links within your content being presented differently at every occurrence (i.e “…Read more” and “read more…” and “keep reading” all on the same page).
These may seem like minor points, but even if only noticed by a visitor at a subconscious level, these errors show that very little planning has gone into the content of your site. Every little inconsistency can work against your efforts to appear as a professional expert in your field.
Develop a written style guide and refer to it often.
In your guide, lay out the rules for your website content. Write down how you are going to format your dates and bulletpoints (full stops or no full stops?), when you will hyphenate words, when to use H2 and H3 header styles etc.
By keeping your written content consistent, your site can come across as being an authoritative, serious, source of information. It will also mean that your brand and message remains constant throughout your site.
Out of date content
I have seen numerous sites that mention an upcoming event (which took place ages ago), or use time specific words: ‘yesterday’ ‘today’ ‘recently’ ‘soon’. These words become redundant pretty quickly.
Out of date content sends a simple message, that you don’t really care enough about your site, or you visitors to keep your content relevant. Not a good first impression to make.
In the rush to produce a constant supply of new content, old pages are often neglected.
Avoid writing about anything time specific when creating a static page which you’re not likely to return and edit any time soon. Otherwise, make a list of the pages with time relevant content and note when to rewrite and past-tense-ify.
Spelling and grammar errors
This point should go without saying, but poor spelling and grammar on your site are the quickest ways to turn off your potential audience. Not only are typos unprofessional, they can also distract readers from the message you’re trying to convey.
Why should anyone be interested in what your site has to say if you don’t even think it’s worth your time to pick up a dictionary?
Easy. Proofread, proofread, and proofread some more.
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So there you have it – the online world equivalent of bad dating etiquette (or how to guarantee no second date).
What are your pet web content peeves? What, when you visit a new website, annoys you the most?