Writing For The Web – What We Can Learn From Jakob Nielsen

Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s studies offer valuable insight into the nature of successful writing for the web. This article summarises areas of Dr Nielsen’s research most relevant to website copywriting and examines what we can learn from it.
“Words are usually the main money-makers on a website.”- Nielsen on Writing for the Web
Nielsen has been running web usability studies since 1994. He is best known for his research and publications involving eye tracking technology. This method tracks the eye movements of users as they navigate websites, bouncing infrared beams off a person’s retinas and recording head movements with a camera. After nearly 2 decades of user behaviour research, Dr. Nielsen is considered to be the world’s leading authority.
79% of test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16% read word-for-word. Email newsletters are read even more abruptly than websites.
Writing for the web should cater for scanners not readers. There are several ways to make your text easier to scan use sub headings, bulleted lists, one idea per paragraph, break up text and use inverted pyramid style writing (start with the conclusion). You have to make it as easy and fast as possible for people to get the information they need. The user has no patience and wants to get in and out quickly. Think about the language you use, when writing for the web keep it straight-forward and to the point.
The F Pattern
Eye tracking visualisations show that users often read pages in an F-shaped pattern: two horizontal stripes followed by a vertical stripe.
Your user will read 2 horizontal lines first. Therefore, the first two paragraphs or so must state the most important information. Next the reader will scan down the left side of the webpage. That means the first few words of your subheadings, paragraphs and bullet points are the most important. Nielsen suggests a website copywriter ought to start with information-carrying words that users will notice.
Active Voice Copy
Active voice is best for usually when writing for the web but using passive voice can let you front-load important keywords in headings, titles and lead sentences. This enhances scannability and thus SEO effectiveness.
Eye tracking findings about scanning and the F pattern has emphasised the tremendous importance of getting the first 2 words right. Users fixate on headlines, sub headings, summaries, captions, links and lists when scanning. Selecting the first 2 words for your headers is probably the most important decision you’ll make. This is also relevant when you’re writing meta titles and descriptions. A passive voice allows you to pull keywords to the front left, into the lead and therefore most likely to be read. Writing for the web – Example:
Active – “Do you want to mow your lawns in half the time?”
Passive – “New Lawn Mower is able to cut grass in half the time.”
“Sometimes passive voice can increase ROI. Use it. Carefully.” – JNielsen
Website readers spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold. Although users do scroll, they allocate only 20% of their attention below the fold.
Successful writing for the web engages visitors and gives them a reason to want to read on. Studies have found that people will only look very far down a page if the copy encourages scanning and the initial information makes them believe that it will be worth their time to scroll. A website copywriter must speak directly to the audience and tell them why you are worth their time.
Promotional Writing
Users detest “marketese” – the promotional writing style with boastful subjective claims that currently is prevalent on the internet. Objective language using neutral rather than subjective, boastful, or exaggerated language improved usability and effectiveness by 27%.
When writing for the web, never overdo the use of adjectives. Your customer doesn’t want to know that you think your product is the hottest, best, finest, ultimate or greatest. That is for them to decide. Stick to the facts, making these claims is subjective. Boasting and exaggerating is a turn off whether it’s occurs in real life or in your website copywriting.
Credibility is important for internet users, since it is unclear who is behind information and whether a page can be trusted.
Nielsen suggests that you can exude credibility through good web writing. Professional, well written website copywriting shows the customer they are dealing with a credible, authoritative company they can trust. Spelling mistakes, sloppy grammar and a poor choice of language when writing for the web is not a good representation of your company.
In writing for the web, humour should be used with caution. Given people’s different preferences for humour, it is important for a website copywriter to know the audience, before including humour in a site.
Even then, the use of humour is risky because you cannot take into account your visitors background, age, gender etc. It may be safer to avoid using humour altogether when writing for the web.
Writing for Social Media
Internet users like the simplicity of messages that pass into oblivion over time, but were frequently frustrated by unscannable writing, overly frequent postings, and their inability to locate companies on social networks.
Nielsen’s social media content study measured the usability of corporate content distributed through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace – streams, walls and feeds. The messages that received the highest scores shared the following 3 traits:
1. Substance
3.Relevance to the company or organisation
He concluded – “Users do want these messages. In moderation. If they’re good.”
In an interview, Nielsen stated that most Web 2.0 trends are not that important for business sites.
“They still need to focus on getting Web 1.0 right: helping customers find the products, describing them in ways that make sense and making transactions more seamless.”

No Comments Found

Leave a Reply