Some time ago, I posted some general guidelines for writing for an online audience. Here are some specific time-tested tips for attracting and keeping site visitors with clean, clear writing:
1. Keyword Top Labels
Use keywords for window titles and taglines, and keep them sharp and succinct. These labels are for helping Internet users get to your site because they typed them into a search engine and your site came up in the results, not for wowing visitors when they get there (assuming they get there, because you’re not using keywords to help searchers).
2. Keyword Display Copy
Employ keywords, not clever words, to begin headings, headlines, and link names, and keep the display copy brief. Most Web site visitors scan just the first one or two words of display copy. In “Where to Go on Vacation This Summer,” the first keyword appears as the fifth word of seven. (Go isn’t a keyword, because you don’t yet know what kind of going is involved.)
“Summer-Vacation Destinations,” by contrast, gives you three keywords out of three, with the two most important ones in first and second place. This approach is especially advantageous for a commerce site, but your personal blog shouldn’t be any different (assuming you want to attract new site visitors, not just impress current ones).
3. Avoid All Capital Letters
Don’t use all capital letters, even in display copy. All-cap text is harder to scan and to read. Do, however, use initial caps for headings and headlines.
4. Avoid Exclamation Points
Unless your site is all about bringing the funny — or attempting to do so — don’t use exclamation points. (Another exception: if all the i’s are dotted with circles or hearts.)
5. Omit Extraneous Spaces or Punctuation
All-cap initials and acronyms, of course, but don’t separate letters with word spaces — or with periods. Omit apostrophes when attaching a plural s to such abbreviations.
6. Avoid Superfluous Headings
Eschew headings and headlines like “Features” and “Links” for self-evident sections.
7. Make Navigation and Display Easy on the Eyes
Make it easy to find other pages and archived content, and avoid making the home page and other pages busy in general.
8. Keyword Navigation
Never use “Click here” or “More” (by itself) or “Next page” for a link name. Use keywords: “Archive,” “More Top 10 Lists,” “Ski Trip, Day 2.”
9. Limit Font and Background Styles
Avoid multiple fonts, font sizes, font colors, and background colors. Use one font for display copy and another for running text. Limit italics to emphasis of words and short phrases. Employ boldface generously in display copy but sparingly in running text.
10. Write for First-Time Visitors
If you want to attract a general readership, write for a general readership. Don’t dumb down, but do explain obscure terminology and do spell acronyms out. (You could provide a glossary, but briefly explaining, or spelling out, an unfamiliar term needn’t be distracting to either lay readers or experts.)