A great website relies on all parts working in harmony. This translates into developing your brand then communicating it through imagery, colors, fonts and content.

When my career first started as a designer more than 12 years ago, I had a very unhealthy obsession for aesthetics. I paid very, very close attention to the colors, layout and overall look of projects. Content invariably was an intrusive request from copywriters and interfered with my negative space.

I have since realized how important content is and have changed my obsession to include thoughtful consideration of how compelling messages should be presented.

Be personal and have a personality

Too much of the copy available on websites is bland and uninspiring. Its time to add some personality. Begin by knowing your audience. Think of each page as being read by a single potential client or person from your target group. Write your copy for this person alone, communicating to her that you want her to visit your site again, tell a friend and potentially follow your call to action. Make it personal – people like to talk to people not faceless companies. Whenever possible write as ‘Jim from Jim’s Law Firm’ rather than as ‘Big Firm, LLC.’ People are less critical and more receptive when dealing with a individual rather than an organization.

The internet is very impersonal and communicating through computers is never perceived as friendly. Therefore it is important to compensate in your writing, but also keep a balance between professional and overly familiar. Your tone should support your expertise, engender trust and encourage a transaction.

Use a present tense and positive subject line

Compare “lawsuit was granted” versus “we won a enormous lawsuit”. Notice how it focuses on the accomplishments of the company by using “we” and adding the adjective “enormous” implies a sense of importance, improvement and excitement.

Avoid sitting on the fence – it gets you nowhere. If your wanting to sell something or wanting to compel them to take an a particular action, be definitive. You are the “expert” otherwise they wouldn’t be visiting your site. So don’t use words such as “should”, “could”, “maybe” or “possibly” they have negative implications on most audiences, they make them question you and your abilities.

Be Concise

Don’t ramble on endlessly, get to your point quickly and clearly. Cut the rubbish and the jargon, no one wants to hear it or see it. Krug’s third law of usability states “Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left”. Because users just don’t read large amounts of text on screen there is little point of it being there. Wherever possible keep text to a minimum and be sure to omit needless words.

Avoid jargon

Remember that not all your users will use the same terminology as you. They won’t necessarily know all the acronyms and industry terms which are so familiar to you. It is often worth passing copy via a family member or somebody unconnected with your industry to see if they understand it all. All of that jargon is useful in your FAQ or Resources page, where you can explain in detail all of the terms and concepts that make you an expert in your field.

Make sure you can scan it

The combination of information overload and the difficulty of reading on screen ensures that your viewers will not stay on your site long. It is safe to assume that a user will not read an entire page of text, so make sure that your content is easy to scan. Do this by:

  • using a summary at the top of the page
  • using headings and subheadings
  • separating text with images and graphics
  • using bold, italics and color to highlight certain content
  • using bullet points

Keep perspective

In my experience it is the content that delays almost every single website project I work on, without fail. So keep in mind that the content on your website is not permanent and should be updated and adjusted over time. Do not spend so much time developing your content that it creates stress and postpones your website launch. It is always better to have a website where potential clients can contact you, even if it is not perfect. The best plan is to initially implement as much of the most important content as possible, then refine and amend as needed over time.

(photo: churl)