Your web visitors come to your site to find out more about what you do. They’re looking for someone to help them. If you’re like most companies, you are willing to invest large sums in the design and build of your website but much less in web copy to make it whistle and whirr.
Writing compelling web copy is a hugely undervalued skill. Too many companies think that being able to write is all that’s required. But even people who write well for the paper page can come unstuck with website copy.
Only a very small minority of writers have a good understanding of the digital mindset.
The digital mindset increasingly influences how visitors respond to a web page. As a web writer, you need to know about the psychology of how people read online and you must write with this in mind.
Whether you’re a professional or in-house copywriter, you do your readers a huge service when you write with a clear understanding of how they will treat your hard-crafted words.
Your re-wired brain
Since 1991, as the influence of the Web has grown, something weird has been going on.
“Once I was a scuba diver in a sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a jet ski.”
That’s how the technology writer, Nicolas Carr, described the change in his relationship between offline print and online words.
He realised that reading online was damaging his ability to read offline. So accustomed was he to the frenzy of online gratification, he found it hard to take pleasure in more gentle linear reading.
Perhaps you feel this too?
It wouldn’t be too surprising. Research shows that, over the past 20 years, our brains have been cleverly re-wiring themselves to process the multiple types of media a web page throws at us.
How do they do it? Well, it’s to do with Neuroplasticity.
Your brain is a massively plastic organ. It can re-programme itself and alter the way it functions. Your brain literally changes when experience, circumstance and need dictate.
But, just because our poor brains are learning to cope, it doesn’t mean that blasting it on all levels is an effective way of getting your message across.
Spending time online is:
- Tiring – you constantly stare at the screen.
- Stressful – you need important information / stuff NOW!.
- Addictive – you find it impossible to switch off.
The quest to gorge
Most of your readers are on a quest. Certain people, who have something very specific in their mind, are willing to spend hours hunting it down. It’s called ‘information foraging’.
Because you know the answer’s out there, you willingly scan headlines, keywords and images in the hope of finding it.
When you find what you want, you will greedily GORGE on it.
Yes, you will gladly stuff your brain with all the valuable nuggets of information before you.
That’s why web writers should…
Cultivate the 16%
According to Jakob Neilsen, the usability expert, 79% of online visitors don’t read. They either scan or skim. 16% will read word for word. I guess the other 5% don’t hang around…
Understandably, most web writers interpret this as a call to action. They make their web pages highly scannable to appeal to the 79%.
While this is a good thing, focusing on the BIG number often means the 16% are often overlooked. This is a mistake.
It’s a mistake because that 16% generally represents the people who have the problem you solve. They are your real customers, followers or fans. They want what you have.
So you want to keep them glued to the page.
Encourage them to stick around by making their reading experience as pleasant as possible.
Here are five ways you can do this:
- Create a double-readership path so the copy can be read on multiple levels.
- Deploy copy cosmetics: font, size, bold, italics, colour etc.
- Use web writing approaches to suit topic, market and audience.
- Change and vary tone and style.
- Use short sentences and words with a low syllable count.
The digital mindset responds well to each and all of these techniques. Try them. You’ll find your visitors stay longer (the average is 16-24 secs). And they’re more likely to read other things you write.