Writing for the web

Writing for the web is different to other forms of copy. Your readers are often in a hurry, they’re trying to complete a task, eg find contact details, find a course or check opening times. What do they need to do next? Think about your user’s journey and help them by keeping copy to the point and easy to read. Making your content simple doesn’t mean it has to be simplistic.

Think about your content

What is the purpose of your web pages? Think about the following:
• What content have you got? Carry out an audit of your content. Is it relevant and current?
• Do your research – what do the users need to know? What is their journey? What are your competitors doing?
• Who is going to maintain your pages? Make sure you have an editorial workflow in place.

Reading on web is different to print – pages must be scannable, ie broken up by meaningful headings, using short paragraphs and bullet points. Reading on screen is 25% slower than reading printed text so your readers will scan. The pattern their eyes follow is illustrated by this heat map, which shows much of the content on text heavy pages won’t get read.

So how do you structure a web page?

In general, your most important information should sit at the top of the page. Think of an inverted pyramid. The widest part at the top illustrates the most substantial and interesting content. In newspaper journalism, the who, what, when, where and why, belong at the top of the story.

Use meaningful headings – acronyms, puns and plays on words will only frustrate your reader. Make it easy for them to scan your page by breaking it into sections with clear titles. What words would people type into Google to find you? Use tools like Google Trends or the keyword planner to learn what words your audience will be searching for and use this to inform the language you use on your page.

Keep your text short and simple – the BBC news website only has one sentence per paragraph.

Think about formatting – bullet lists work well. Tables don’t work well for large amounts of text.

Think about your audience

Think about what your reader needs to know and write with them in mind. You can do this by using personas and user stories.

A persona is a fictional person who is an example of a member of your audience. Give them a name, a background, and a story. Who are they and what do they need from your web page?
The user story is simply working out who your persona is, what they want to do, and what their goal is. Download a template user story.

Lead with the benefit to the user rather than the feature

This sentence talks about what the user will get from doing a final project (the benefit) rather than simply stating that the project exists as a feature of the course: “You will develop advanced research skills through your dissertation or final project and become a confident, articulate and highly employable graduate.”

Write in the first person plural or the second person. It’s a direct, professional but friendly tone and makes the user feel more connected to the content. You’re talking to them rather than about them.

What about reading on a mobile?

We still write with desktop in mind first because this is our largest audience, but we increasingly need to cater for mobile users as more people visit our site on their phones. On average one in three visitors to www.leeds.ac.uk are using a mobile device. This peaks at one in two on clearing day.
• Use short and strong headlines – a long headline will take up the whole of a mobile screen.
• Avoid tables and drop down lists. Use bullet points.
• Scrolling through a page on a mobile is much easier than clicking around several pages.
• Your content should load quickly or the user will get frustrated (multiple videos and large images will slow your site down).
• Downloads cost data. If you’re putting up a download, make sure it is clearly labeled as such.

Language and writing tips

Don’t use acronyms and abbreviations if you can avoid it. We might know what they mean but does the audience? Spell it out for them. If you have to use an acronym, write it out in full and put the acronym after in brackets.

Avoid too many adjectives and adverbs – write in plain English. Avoid cliché and marketese. “World-leading” is an overused phrase. Is anything truly “unique”? Think about the words you use and what they mean. Can you back up your claims with evidence?

We write in sentence case, so the first letter of the first word of a sentence and proper names are the only places where you’ll see capital letters. It’s tiring to read copy containing lots of capital letters – they are taller than lower case letters so your eye has more work to do.

Label your links correctly

Use the active voice. “She used the active voice” is better than “The active voice was used by him”. It’s a more direct way of writing, and sets a positive and friendly tone.

Follow the University’s style guide and tone of voice

We’re a large university, but we’re one university and so we should be consistent in our style and language. This can only improve the reader’s experience.

Evaluate your content

Conduct regular reviews of your content to make sure it is still serving your audience’s needs. Talk to your audience. Use Google Analytics to get insights into how your content is being used.

Images and video

With your University log-in you can access our Image Library, where you’ll find high-quality images that, unless otherwise stated, you can use for your website.
If you need to commission new photography, read about our photography framework.
Do
• commission relevant photography which features Leeds’ facilities and/or people. Authentic images of real people are much more engaging than stock photography
• we’re a diverse community on campus – reflect this with your photos
• tell your photographer the pictures will be used online and show them examples
• include relevant research images but check their use and caption them
• ensure you have written permission from any individuals who are identifiable
• ensure the images are in focus and appropriate quality
• Make your image accessible with alternative text

Avoid
• using stock shots
• forcing images into pages where an image doesn’t add to the content (eg how to pay fees or links to forms)

Do not include information in images which isn’t available in copy as this is inaccessible, for example adding a process as an image file will not be accessible to screen-reading software.

Videos and animations

Video is engaging and easily embedded in any page of your site.

Video is most often viewed when pushed through other communication channels but should only be added to a webpage if it adds value to the user. Adding videos slows page speed so avoid adding more than one to page if possible.

Do
• keep video short and focused
• include useful content for the viewer and make it clear what they will get from the video
• use the medium to show something which can’t be handled well in text or images
• consider the context in which the video appears.
• think about how else you will promote or use video assets
• use a framework supplier
• add subtitles for accessibility
• remember, the quality of the production does affect the use of video

Avoid
• plain talking head clips, analytics show they don’t attract many views or engagement