Jo's Web Wizardry

Jo Atherton

Throughout this column in 2012, I’ve talked about all the different channels that are available to artists to promote themselves online, whether it be Facebook, or Pinterest. I’ve mentioned online mailing lists, QR codes and our very own HVA website, but I’ve not yet shared with you some of the most important tips and tricks when writing for the web.

People have very short attention spans when online - don’t make them work for your content.

Online, you have a much shorter time to grasp people’s attention and tell them what your page is about. It was always said that someone will make up their mind whether to stay on a page within 10 seconds of arriving.

A common trick is the inverted pyramid used by journalists - to provide your page’s conclusion within the first paragraph, giving the reader chance to decide whether the page is relevant to them. If your website is simply a portfolio of your work, this is less important, but if blogging about your ideas, it is important to think about this as it is often this initial text that is pulled through to Facebook and Google.

Don’t reinvent the wheel - cross reference and link to helpful content

If you have already written about a process or event, there is no need to include this content again. Simply link through to the earlier post or page, given your readers the option of finding out more if they wish. This will save your reader from being overwhelmed by excessive amounts of information if they simply want to know about your thinking behind a recent piece of work.

Simple is best

Don’t over-complicate things. Use simple language and keep sentences short. Don’t use unnecessary words and remember - with the explosion in mobile technology, people may not be sat in a quiet office, browsing your website as they sip their morning coffee. They could be stood up on the train on their commute, walking the dog or (heaven forbid) in the bath!

Structure your page

Use headings and lists to organise your content. A page with headings is much easier to skim read and judge whether it is relevant, rather than having to wade through dense paragraphs of text. On the subject of bulleted lists…..

Here is my Christmas gift to you - a handy checklist of tips for you to bear in mind when you’re writing online in 2013!

  • Don’t use ‘click here’ – my pet hate! Make the links part of the sentence, so readers know exactly where they are going when they see a link to our recent Newsletters for example.
  • Use lists and headings, making it easier for your reader to scan content
  • Use titles and headings that will make sense out of context – things pop up all over the web!
  • Use simple language and keep sentences short
  • Stick to one idea per paragraph
  • Don’t be ambiguous
  • Use bold to emphasise words, rather than italic or underlined – it’s easier to read
  • Imagine your reader – put yourself in their shoes. Would they find this interesting?
  • And finally, please remember to spellcheck your work! Bad spelling and grammar will damage your credibility.

When I began my career as a Web Editor, our bible was a book by Steve Krug called ‘Don’t Make Me Think!: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability’. The title encapsulates what I have been discussing here – don’t put barriers in the way of your readers getting to your fabulous content.

To read up on this style of writing, take a look at Web Guru Jakob Neilson’s advice on Writing for the Web.