The Digital Charity Lab 5 Minute Guides are intended to give you the basics on a particular digital platform or project. They are collaborative documents and we welcome your feedback and further suggestions in the comments.
Providing clear, informative content on your organisation’s website is crucial for raising awareness and building support for your cause. Research shows us that most people scan web pages rather than reading them carefully. By following some simple steps, you can ensure that your pages are comprehensible.
- Use bullet points to deliver information
- Use clear headings and subheadings
- Headings should be descriptive and meaningful
- Write short sentences, in short paragraphs
- Be concise, clear, and use language that is simple and to the point (avoid jargon!)
- Highlight key words in your sentences. The reader who is scanning the information will get the gist of it from highlighted phrases.
- But don’t highlight entire paragraphs, that defeats the purpose.
Many readers will just glance at your page and not bother reading the entire text carefully. If your page is promoting something such as an event, a donation, or a product for sale, it’s a good idea to put a summary and a call to action at the top of the page.
The idea that people never scroll is a myth, but it’s still good practice to cater to short attention spans by placing a summary at the top of your page.
A top tip for pages promoting events – put the key details at the top of the page in this format, so your site visitor can see all the key information at a glance.
- What: Name of Event
- When: Date and time of event
- Where: Location
- Cost: € / Free
- Book now link
Call to action buttons
Call to action buttons are your friend. Don’t be afraid to repeat them throughout your text: doing this means users don’t have to scroll back up and down once they’ve decided that they’d like to respond to the ask. Such as:
Online vs print conventions
Keep in mind that the Internet is a different medium to print, and that different rules and conventions apply.
- Justified text looks terrible on screens, particularly when they are resized for different devices such as mobiles and tablets. It’s a print convention; use left-aligned text instead.
- When you’re online, all caps means SHOUTING, so don’t use all caps unless you want to shout! They’re also sometimes difficult to read clearly on a screen, so don’t use all caps for long blocks of text. Keep your shouting concise.
- Don’t underline words for emphasis or to denote a heading, as the convention on the web is that an underline means a link. Use bold text for emphasis.
Search engine optimisation
Search engine optimisation is a complex and ever-changing field, but there are some best practice guidelines you can follow when preparing text for your website, to make sure that it performs well in search engines.
- Find the keyword phrases that people are most likely to use to find your page. You can research keywords in the Keyword Planner tool in your Google Grant Ads account. If you don’t have a Google Ads account, you can use keywordtool.io.
- Put the keyword in the following locations on your page:
- The title
- The first and last paragraphs
- In subheadings through the page
- Put the keyword in the meta description for the page. Meta descriptions explained.
There is no ‘ideal’ length for web content. Google favours longer articles of 1,000 – 1,500 words, but padding information out unnecessarily is not good practice. Your readers shouldn’t have to wade through endless paragraphs to find your point. When you’re producing short informational pages (as opposed to online articles), aim for 700 words, with a minimum of 300. If content is too short, Google won’t be able to index it.
Formatting your text
- Resist the temptation to play around with font formatting. Pages with lots of fonts in different colours and sizes do not look professional. Your fonts are determined by a document in your site’s code called a stylesheet, and the only formatting you should be doing is making certain words bold, applying headers and creating lists. If you want a font changed, ask your web designer to update the stylesheet.
- Apply headings rather than just bolding a piece of text. Use Heading 2, Heading 3, etc – the page title is usually Heading 1 so best to start with Heading 2 in the text itself. Check with your web designer if you are not sure about this. Using the proper headings helps your site’s performance in search engines.
- Text should always be left-aligned. Centred and justified body text is not a good idea online as it can be difficult to read. See webdevblog.co.uk for comprehensive details.
This should go without saying, but make sure everything is proofed and spell-checked. Research shows that bad spelling reduces user confidence and trust.
Naming pages and posts
- Page names that appear in navigation menus should be kept short.
- Every website should have a ‘Home’ and a ‘Contact’ link as users expect to see these and may be confused if they are named differently.
- Every post should always have a unique title. Giving multiple posts the same name (such as ‘This Week’s News’) is confusing to both users and search engines. Instead of calling the posts ‘This Weeks’ News’, name them ‘This Week’s News: July 7th – 14th 2011’. Or better yet, come up with an interesting, unique title for each post that reflects its content.
‘Website’, ’email’ and ‘online’ should all be written without a hyphen.
Using ‘Click Here’ for links
Don’t! Links should provide context about what they’re linking to – it’s better for both human users and search engines. Instead of writing ‘click here to read our Annual Report’, write ‘our Annual Report is now available’.
When you use ‘click here’ the reader has to read the entire sentence or paragraph to find out what they’re clicking – but if you link the descriptive text, it’s immediately clear. Plus, not everyone will be clicking – some will be touching or tapping on various devices.
Microsoft Word ruins everything
If you are using a content management system such as WordPress, be careful when copying and pasting from Microsoft Word documents. It adds a load of junk code and carries across formatting which can be very difficult to remove unless you know HTML code. Use the ‘Paste from Word’ button, or copy and paste the text from Word into Notepad if your system does not have this feature.
This also applies to Google Docs, and many email systems; it’s safer to always use ‘Paste from Word’ when pasting text.
There are lots of resources available online to guide you in writing web content.
- ImproveTheWeb.com – How to format text content
- UXMyths – fascinating site that debunks many common misperceptions about the way web content is consumed
Any questions, comments or suggested additions, please comment below!
Free resource: web content style guide template
Use our free template to create a Web Content Style Guide for your non-profit. This editable template contains information on:
- best practice for web content
- a guide to formatting text for the web
- correct use of common web terminology
and contains customisable sections so you can add information related to your organisation’s brand and language.
Do you know of any good training courses in this area for novices?
Hey Sarah! I see there’s one on Lynda.com, I haven’t tried it myself but their courses are usually very reliable: https://www.lynda.com/Web-Content-Strategy-tutorials/Writing-Web/180104-2.html