In this instalment of Words that Bite, I look at why you should omit needless words from your website.
TIP NO. 14
If a word on a website is not essential, delete it
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog on how to write website copy. This week, because it is something that is often overlooked, I will expand on one of the points I made in that blog – the importance of keeping website copy short and snappy.
When I analyse why websites are not working as well as they should, more often than not one of the main problems is that the website is overcrowded with words.
The main problem with having too much text on your website is that your message becomes diluted and even confused. Being confronted with large slabs of copy is often alienating for people browsing the web.
How many times have you landed on a website and been greeted with a chunk of prose welcoming you to it and telling you all about the history of the company?
What was your reaction?
I bet you didn’t even bother to skim the text. You probably moved elsewhere on the website, in the hope that the fog would clear and the sun would start shining. When it didn’t, you most likely moved on to another website.
As I have said in previous posts, when people look at your web page, you have eight seconds to catch their attention. You are not going to be able to do this if your website is infested with lengthy slabs of prose.
Often, when people surf the web, they are looking for something specific. Their overwhelming concern is to find whatever they are looking for quickly.
Therefore, when you are writing for the web, you need to bear in mind that people will read this content on a screen, which is a very different experience from reading something on paper. In short, a screen is not as reader-friendly. In addition, there are lots of things on the web that can distract from the text. Photographs, videos, banners, and flashing images continually compete with words for attention.
So, when you write for the web, you need to keep your content sharp and do your utmost to suppress the waffle monster within.
Most importantly, you should follow the maxim William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White laid down in the classic writing text The Elements of Style: ‘Omit needless words’.
Why you should omit needless words on your website
In The Elements of Style, Strunk and White stated:
‘Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts’.
Now, although I think that this is a great general rule, I don’t agree with it entirely. I believe there are times when a few extra words can add spice and flavour to a piece of writing. Novels are a good example of a literary form where words can be used more generously. Some of the best historical texts I’ve read have an almost lyrical and poetic quality.
However, on the web, the ‘omit needless words’ maxim should be applied religiously. A business website is not the place to indulge in flowery language because, most of the time, users are looking for something specific and want to find it as quickly as possible. In short, they are not in the mood for poetry.
How to get rid of excess wordage
The idea that words on a website should be kept to a minimum is hardly new.
The key question, though, is: How do you turn slabs of indigestible website text into something concise and punchy?
Here are five tests I’ve devised to help ensure that your website copy is always trim and terrific:
Test No. 1: Check whether your website copy will send a reader to sleep
When you read your website copy, try to evaluate whether it is the type of copy that will send a reader to sleep.
A major type of coma-inducing website copy is self-congratulatory promotional writing that says nothing concrete. It focuses on saying how wonderful you are, rather than explaining what makes you wonderful.
If in doubt about your website copy, test it on someone who knows nothing about your business. Do they look like they are about to yawn? If so, it is time to take another look at the copy.
Test No. 2: Check whether you are focusing on ‘us’ or ‘you’
In other posts, I’ve talked about the importance of focusing on ‘you’, rather than ‘us’, on a website. This point is worth restating because concentrating on ‘us’ is a trap that many businesses fall into, and can be one of the factors that leads to an excessively wordy website.
Therefore, one of the easiest ways to edit your website copy is to go through every line and ask yourself the following questions:
Do your customers or clients need to know this?
Would your customers or clients be interested in this?
If you shift the focus from what you want to say about your business to what your customers want to hear about your products or services, you can identify the material that is superfluous.
Once you have identified anything extraneous, delete it. You should do this even if it hurts.
Test No. 3: Check the length of your paragraphs
You should also review your individual paragraphs and analyse whether they are appropriate for a website. Personally, I like nothing more than a beautifully constructed paragraph that dissects an idea as smoothly as a scalpel in the hands of a top surgeon cuts into flesh.
However, on the web, you can’t afford to write these kinds of paragraphs because you don’t have time to explore ideas. Instead, you should use your internal scalpel to cut, cut, cut.
You should also consider:
How long is the paragraph?
Is the paragraph likely to scare a reader because it looks long and impenetrable?
Does the paragraph clearly communicate what a potential customer or client will want to know?
Test No. 4: Check the length of your sentences and make sure the structure is varied
You also need to look at every sentence and make sure that it is short and snappy. There is no place for long, convoluted sentences on the web. Furthermore, you should vary your sentence structure, so your prose does not become monotonous.
Once again, there is nothing I like more than a beautiful sentence that knocks me over with its artistry.
Unfortunately, however, the web is not the place for ornate sentences.
On the web, you need to make your sentences not only concise but clear. Their primary objective should be to communicate a message as quickly and succinctly as possible.
Test No. 5: Use headings and bullets
A great way of making website copy more lively is to break it up. You should review your website copy to see if there is a way you can break up the text using:
When writing for the web, make sure you omit needless words.
There are a number of tests you can use to detect whether you have fallen victim to the waffle monster within:
You should also think about whether you can break up the text with headings, subheadings, and bullet points.
In the next instalment of Words that Bite, I look at the tricky question of using social media to promote your business.
Are you too busy running your business to write your website content? Would you like someone to write it for you? If so, call the Pink Rottweiler on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.