The Web is intended to help people find information
quickly and easily. So why do so many sites make it difficult
for users to get what they need?
As president of a copywriting firm that writes and edits content for
dozens of online projects a year, I've come across several common blunders
that prevent effective communication via the Web. Here are my top five:
1. Hiding who you are and what you do. It's sad that many sites
make it a challenge to figure out what they're about. Yes, it may be
cool to have a giant dancing logo on your home page, but don't forget
why your visitors are there: to learn what you can do for them! Be
sure your home page includes a short overview that clearly and concisely
describes what you have to offer. It's also a good idea to repeat your
tagline or a short mission statement on every page of your site.
2. Writing for print. Reading copy on a computer screen is different
than reading printed text. We read online text more slowly, and we
tend to scan rather than read because, visually, the words are harder
to digest. Help your users find key words and concepts quickly by making
your copy "scannable." Instead of intro paragraphs, use subheads.
Use shorter sentences, paragraphs, and pages. Use bulleted lists. And
use hyperlinks to give readers more info if they want it.
3. Writing too formally. Online readers expect a personal, upbeat
tone. If you write like a bureaucrat, you risk turning off many users.
Think active voice rather than passive. Write to your customers like
you'd talk to them, and nix any industry jargon they may not understand.
Interestingly, I occasionally see the opposite problem. For example,
a respected law firm's site shouldn't shout excitedly at customers
as in a sweepstakes offer. Ask yourself: "How do my customers
want to be talked to?"
4. Designing cryptic navigation. Unfortunately, many sites don't
seem to be truly designed with the end user in mind. Consider why users
are visiting your site, then turn those reasons into your main navigation
choices. Try to limit them to 8 or less. Then, create subnavigation
within those choices. But if there's an especially popular page on
your site, why not put a special direct link from the home page? For
example, on the home page of our site, we keep a direct link to our
5. Making it difficult to contact you or place an order. I recently
visited the Web site of an acclaimed furniture manufacturer, and I
was ready to order one of their renowned ergonomic chairs. I clicked
around, found the chair I wanted, and then quickly grew irate. Not
only couldn't I find where to order it online, I couldn't even find
their phone number to call and order one or find the nearest dealer!
The results? One lost customer.
Put your phone number, an e-mail link, and a link to your order form
(if you have one) on every page. Don't rely on your users having the
patience to take a few extra steps. Make it as easy as possible, and
they'll be much more likely to follow through (and return)!
Alexandria K. Brown is president of AKB & Associates, a copywriting
firm specializing in dynamic communications for Web and print. Address:
244 Fifth Ave., Suite 29160, New York, NY 10001. phone: 212-591-2130,
fax: 212-202-5064, e-mail: email@example.com, Web site: http://www.akbwriting.com.