Writing Web Content for the Online Reader

By Cris L. Rominger

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Summary: To increase the chances that your web content gets noticed, it pays to understand how we read online - before you start to write.

Relevant, scannable content is key

Flash. Video. Animation. Despite the web’s continuing growth as a visual medium, it remains a steadfast information tool for many of us - especially in the business-to-business (b2b) arena.

We use the web to research, to assess, to compile, and to conduct business. Having grown accustom the web’s ability to sort and serve up relevant content, we’ve developed higher expectations and lower tolerance levels.

Where's the beef?

As information seekers, we’re goal oriented and on a mission. We’re impatient and critical. And we scan rather than read.

According to web usability guru Jakob Nielsen, "As goal-oriented people, web users want to get to their destination, find the interesting or useful information they're looking for, and move on. They don't have the time or the inclination to wade through a sea of text that never gets to the point."

Touché.

Writing for content scanners or readers or both?

We need only to look at our own behavior to verify Nielsen’s findings.

When in retrieval mode, we arrive on a page and ask ourselves:

  • Am I in the right place?
  • Is there something here for me?
  • Can I get to it easily?

And we’re quick to decide. We take in pictures and graphics, scan headings and bullets, and focus mostly on the first few words.

If we pick up an information scent, we drill down. And if we find relevant information that serves our needs or interests, we read.

Turns out we read about 77 percent of online content that interests us, according to the Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack07 research.

B2B readers love web content

Anyone who has created or consumed content in the b2b marketplace knows this – b2b buyers are information hounds.

Driven by risk avoidance, lengthy sales cycles, and the need to share findings across large decision making committees, b2b buyers spend a lot of time researching, evaluating, and compiling information online.

According to Enquiro research, a full 92% of respondents turn to online resources in the early stages of the buying cycle.

B2B buyers love relevant web content because it helps them in their decision making process.

Web content writing blunders

Like all online readers, b2b folks share distaste for promotional fluff, mission statements, and other marketing blah blah. Other turn offs include:

  • Poor organization
  • Language and style inconsistencies
  • Lack of relevance
  • Punctuation and grammatical errors

Help an online reader out

Granted, reading online will never be as easy on the eyes as reading from paper, but we can help our readers out with good formatting that grabs attention and relevant, well-written content that addresses readers’ needs.

For more web content tips, see Website Content Tips: 6 Ways to Grab Readers’ Attention.

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