There is a saying that "content is king" or "content is queen." When people are looking for information from us online and they are able to find what they're looking for easily, our website's value increases. If people are unable to find what they're looking for on our website – or if the experience is difficult – our website's value decreases.
Ultimately, the quality of our content determines the success of our website. But what is content?
Content is text or media:
- Text written inside text blocks
- Text used inside image descriptions
Goals and Principles
People read online communication differently than traditional forms of communication.
People search for specific content and don't stop to read content that doesn't quickly meet their needs. This means we need to create content that gives people the information they are looking for, and quickly.
- Empower. Help users understand what we offer and how to benefit from our services with language that informs and encourages them.
- Educate. Start simple and give users the information they need first. Follow that up with secondary and more complex information.
- Understand. Put yourself in the users' shoes. Focus on what users want and need and provide that information in a way they can understand.
- Respect. Treat users with the respect they deserve. Don't "talk at" people – communicate with them.
- Be Authentic. Understand our role in the lives of our students, employees, and community. We provide important services, and our website is a powerful tool to help them access those services.
In order to achieve those goals, we make sure our content is:
- Concise. Higher education is complex, but our explanations don't have to be. Be concise and clear. If a simpler word fits, use it. Write in short sentences that are easy to read.
- Useful. Before you start writing, ask yourself: What is the purpose of this content? Who is reading it? What do they need or want to know?
- Strategic. We meet our users' needs by knowing when to reduce content, split it up into smaller pieces, change its format, or remove it altogether. Remember that when using the web, people scan and don't read large blocks of text.
- Personable. Avoid higher education buzzwords, acronyms, and jargon. Follow the basic rules of grammar and don't use slang, but don't be afraid to break a few rules if it makes your writing more relatable. Be warm and human.
- Appropriate. Keep the intended audience and subject matter in mind. Keep your voice consistent, but adapt your tone depending on the audience and topic.
Don't Welcome Visitors to Your Website
It's not necessary to welcome visitors to our website – they know why they are there. Instead, provide the most important information and calls to action, as outlined in the inverted pyramid for web writing.
If it is essential to explain to your users the purpose of your page, then describe what they can find on your site or how to get started in as few words as possible. If you must include a welcome message, focus it on your users' wants and needs and make it extremely simple.
Inverted Pyramid for Web Writing
The inverted pyramid approach places the most important information at the top and follows with supporting details that are progressively less important.
- In the first three to five sentences, include the who-what-when-where-why-how.
- Write sentences that are 25 words or less. Make your writing more interesting by writing sentences that vary in length.
- Paragraphs should have no more than five sentences. If you're covering multiple ideas, break them into separate paragraphs.
- Use meaningful subheadings that break up long content into chunks. Aim to keep subheadings short. At their longest, they should be no more than five or six words.
Most Important Information
- Summary lead sentence (25 words or less) with essential information, including who-what-why-how
- Use relevant keywords
- Write in terms that appeal to the reader: What's in it for me? Why should I care?
- Second sentence adds important details not included in the lead. (Maybe when-where-why-how, if not in lead.)
- Good location for call to action
- Remaining who-what-when-where-why-how
- Least important info, background, history, links, and resources