The do's and don'ts of writing content for the Web

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Companies that spend big money to redesign their Web sites often spend very little time on content. Instead of writing for the medium, they often tear text out of brochures and blurt it across the screen. To spice things up, they cram in as much animation, music and video as possible.

It's a waste.

B-to-b buyers don't sign purchase orders because of fancy graphics. B-to-b buyers go to Web sites because they want the factse product benefits, the new features, those golden technical nuggets that engineers crave. They don't want to waste time reading between the JavaScript. Sure, a quick, animated GIF is cool, but most visitors are now saying, "Give me what I came here for."

To give site visitors what they want and ensure they return, use these tips as a guide to writing effective Web content:

&149; DO write simply and concisely. If your visitors stumble over 50-cent words and have to reread your Web content to understand the message, they'll click away in a heartbeat. Write in simple, bare-bones standard English, using a vocabulary of widely understood words with very few regional, slangy or idiomatic expressions.

Even with the increasing popularity of online buying, the No. 1 reason people use the Web is to get information, so cut the fluff.

&149; DON'T overstate your message. Many b-to-b buyers are initially incredulous about your company. After all, they're trying to determine if it would be worthwhile to spend money on your product or service and whether they would want to forge a long-term relationship with your company. It's their job to be skeptical. Therefore, your site must be persuasive, yet sincere; enthusiastic, yet credible. Eliminate bombastic boasts such as, "We are positioned to be the world's pre-eminent provider of

." Exaggeration detracts from the credibility of your entire site and brand. If your claim is really that astounding, your visitors will realize it by reading the supporting evidence.

&149; DO enhance searchability. According to a well-referenced study by Web expert Jakob Nielsen, 79% of Web site visitors scan Web content, while only 16% read it word for word. Web users are usually searching for specific information and will zip through content until they spot key words.

Help them along by breaking information into chunks or sound bites. Use subheadlines, bulleted lists, captions, pull-out quotes, bold words and section summaries.

The Web has fewer storage restrictions than print, allowing you to archive white papers, data sheets, news releases and PDFs of printed material to give readers access to mountains of data that complete your story. But all this information is only helpful if it is easily searchable. Good interactive content builds in various search fields and query features, and links to more detailed information or white papers to make it easy for readers to find what they want fast. Write short, punchy "teaser" paragraphs that a reader can click on to get the full story.

&149; DO build an ongoing relationship. Web communication should be more like a face-to-face meeting than a sales brochure.

Use a friendly tone to make your visitors feel comfortable. Use the second person ("you") often, plus business language and technical terms with which your market is familiar. And read your copy out loud. If it sounds awkward or stiff, that's how your readers will find it, too.

Post news and dynamic information relevant to your audience and write in terms of their unique needs. Remember, the Web is a one-to-one experience. People are willing to listen only if what you're saying relates to them individually.

&149; DON'T forget to proofread.

Surprisingly, many corporate Web sites are loaded with sloppy spelling and grammar. Aside from being unprofessional and undermining your credibility, typos, missing words, bad punctuation and poor grammar will break your readers' concentration. They must stop, interpret what you really mean, then regain their trains of thought before continuing. Chances are, most visitors will just stop and click away.

Lisa Barbadora is copy director at Schubert Communications, a Downingtown, Pa., advertising, marketing and public relations company. Her e-mail is

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