If you’re investing in user experience, you also must invest in usable content. You can’t have one without the other. You can create the best-designed, super functional, most well-architected site or app ever. But, if you write words better suited for traditional media, you’ll ruin your user experience and send customers running.
That’s because creating digital content couldn’t be more different from creating traditional media content. Below are five strategies for creating better content online. They will entirely change your approach to every word in your digital product — for the better.
1. Forget everything you know about writing.
Traditional writing treats words as paragraph-driven and copy as something that we sit down take time to read. Nothing about this approach works online (unless you’re writing for the very specific case of digital publications and posts.) That’s why even talented writers often create web or app content that is, quite frankly, long-winded and horribly dense. To write effectively online, you must entirely rethink how you go about writing. You must adopt a digital mindset.
2. Focus on your users. (You are not the user.)
You cannot write effective digital copy without understanding the real people you’re writing for. Who is visiting your site or app? What do they want to accomplish? What gets in the way? Will your words guide them to success or bog them down?
Always remember, you are not the user. Even if you are someone who will be using the site or app, you are still not the user. You know too much about digital products and therefore your opinion can’t be trusted when planning and building them (sorry). Real users know nothing about building sites or apps, yet they must be able to use them without the slightest hesitation. Get to know them and watch them interact with your words.
3. Think tasks, not copy.
People are on your site or app to do something, not to read your copy. Online, words are signposts and guides that show us where we need to go and what we need to do. We have to process this information at-a-glance. Therefore, content cannot be wordy or difficult to digest — people are trying to process it while moving at a breakneck pace.
Imagine how horrible it would be if real-world highway or airport were written in paragraphs. We would have a heck of a time getting anywhere. The same is true for your web content, yet we constantly see long-winded copy and paragraphs galore. Instead, focus first on helping users find and accomplish tasks easily. You’ll find it difficult to write excessive copy when you approach words this way, and users will love you for it.
4. Write for people who are NOT reading.
No one truly reads your digital copy. Instead, they scan and skim for the one thing they want or need. The more words people have to scan, the harder it is for them to interact with you online. This means — outside of article content — you have zero reason to use any paragraphs on your site or app.
People should be able to fully understand any screen simply by reading headings, buttons, and links. Additional text accompanying major points or actions should be as short as possible — even three lines is too long. This short, scannable text is called microcopy and it is the key to digestible, successful online content.
5. Simplify, simplify, simplify.
Every word on your site or app must justify its existence. Blocks of content, pages, and sections must be robust enough to warrant their space. Anything else doesn’t belong. Individual sentences and headings must be as concise as possible without losing meaning. Can you say something just as well in three words as in seven? Do it.
If you do this correctly, it will mean cutting as much as 90% of your content. That’s a big number, but no exaggeration. That’s how over-bloated, dense, and wordy your site or app very likely is at this very moment.
The Power of Words
Words, just as much as organization, functionality, and layout determine the quality of your digital product’s user experience. As you read this, your site or app could be causing someone extreme frustration. Perhaps they can’t find what they want or are confused about which action to take. They’re forming a negative opinion of your business. They may be about ready to try your competitor’s site or app instead. Your words can either help them out or make things much, much worse.
If you’re not consistently adopting a digital mindset when it comes to words online, it’s time to rethink the way you create content. Fortunately, you can start this very minute. Use the five strategies above as your north star and watch your site or app drastically improve. Welcome to the digital content revolution.
Our team has been doing the real work of user experience since the earliest days of the commercial web. We’re out to make your digital products a whole lot better.
Like any revolution, it’s important to be on the winning side. Join us, we’re leading it.