This is the second in a series of blog posts based on the “5 Website Improvements to Make in 5 Minutes (or Less)” that I co-presented with Maggie McGary at the ASAE Membership, Marketing and Communications Conference in June 2014. Each of these posts will cover one of the elements we discussed in more detail and today’s topic is Make your Content “Web Friendly”. To get a sneak peek of future posts, view the slides from our session on Slideshare.
Visitors to your association website don't want to exhaust themselves wading through an endless chunk of text just to find out who you are and what you offer. By filling your pages with great portions of text – without images, videos, or any way to interact – you will send your potential users away.
Of course, you need words.
But you don't need as many as you may think.
In his essay 'A Storyteller's Shoptalk', the great, late short story writer, Raymond Carver, once said: “That's all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones.” Carver was known for his succinct style, and for crafting deceptively simple sentences almost any reader could engage with. Now, Carver never wrote for websites, true enough, but we can learn valuable lessons from his quote.
Research by the Nielsen Normal Group shows that you can achieve a 58% increase in usability by cutting half the words on your page. Furthermore, in his book Don't Make Me Think, Steve Krug explains his 3rd Law of Usability by telling us: “Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half what's left.” This may sound extreme, but it really will work. Users will not be impressed by a wall of text on every page, no matter how eloquent it may be.
Try focusing on shorter paragraphs, and get rid of what Krug calls:
- 'Happy talk' with too much salesy waffle
- Pointless instructions
- Unnecessary adjectives (e.g. that)
Once you begin to remove certain words and phrases, you may just be amazed by how much more engaging your content becomes.
Take a look at the following example from Don’t Make Me Think. Both pieces share the same goal, yet their structure is very different:
The following questionnaire is designed to provide us with information that will help us improve the site and make it more relevant to your needs. Please select your answers from the drop-down menus and radio buttons below.
The questionnaire should only take you 2 to 3 minutes to complete. At the bottom of the form you can choose to leave your name, address, and telephone number. If you leave your name and number, you may be contacted in the future to participate in a survey to help us improve the site.
If you have comments or concerns that require a response please contact Customer Service.
This is written well, and clear enough, but it's far too wordy. Let's see the smarter choice:
Please help us improve the site by answering these questions. It should only take you 2-3 minutes to complete the survey.
NOTE: If you have comments or concerns that require a response, don't use the form. Instead, please contact Customer Service.
As you can see, the above version is much better: it takes less time to read, it features more white space, and it tells the reader exactly what they need to know. By using “customer service” as anchor text linking to the company's customer contact page, the reader also has a call to action for a clear next step.