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Tips for Great Content, Based on Web Usability Concepts

One of my favorite books about web design and the user experience is Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think. His basic premise is that your website should facilitate the most intuitive flow for a user, and enable as many flows as possible since users will interact with sites in their own unique way.

But I’m a writer, not a web designer or developer. So for me, one of the unexpected values of the book was that it got me rethinking basic content guidelines in light of those user-experience best practices.

With apologies to Krug, here are my Don’t Make Me Think tips for writing great web content:

  1. Cut the cutesy copy. As an English major and a journalist, I admit there is nothing quite like the temptation of the double entendre in a headline. We love our puns, our alliteration, our clever wordplay. But all of these make an assumption about your audience: a shared native language, a knowledge of pop culture (or, God forbid, 19th comes to web content, it’s best to write clearly so anyone from any background can understand what you mean.
  2. Repeat key messages. Redundant text drives me crazy, as does the free-flowing use of copy-and-paste to populate a website with content. (If your About Us and Company History and blog home all have the exact same three paragraphs, you’ve done something wrong.) But your key messages — the organizational goals that get you out of bed each day — should be all over the place to let users find them in whatever location makes sense to them.
  3. Step away from the thesaurus. If you are a kindred spirit (i.e., someone who read Anne of Green Gables as a child), you’ll recall that our red-headed heroine eventually learned that her writing was better when she avoided those $10 words and stuck to simple language. It’s better to impress people with the thoughts you express, not the fancy words you use.
  4. Write for them, not for you. A common mistake I see on websites occurs when the writer is so immersed in a particular topic that he or she assumes everyone else has the same foundation. Similarly, I find some organization websites way too focused on what’s interesting to them about themselves and totally ignoring what’s interesting to their visitors. (Do I care that you won a trade award for having the best logo for a microfinance charity? Probably not. But I do care about how many loans you’ve given out, and the stories of the people they’re helping.)
  5. Give visitors a reason to stay. If you’re like me, you probably spend the better part of your waking hours tethered to a computer or tablet with constant internet access. I am reading all the time, and even when I’m reading something cool, I know that there are other things out there I could be reading. With the surfeit of content available, you’ve got to give people a compelling reason to stick around and read what’s on your website. What’s new? What’s interesting? Is the content about someone important? Make sure the best information is right at the top to grab people’s interest before they wander away.

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