Have you ever received an email in which the ... has beenlost and all the lines run ... Did you try to decipher it?Not likely. ... ... read with one finger on the delete k
Have you ever received an email in which the formatting has been lost and all the lines run together? Did you try to decipher it? Not likely. Delete.
Email recipients read with one finger on the delete key. One click and your email is gone. Internet users surf the Web with their finger poised on the mouse button. One click and theyíre gone. As a web site owner or ezine publisher, you must have good content, but to keep your customers from clicking away or hitting the delete key, you must strive to make their online reading experience as easy as possible.
Reading online is about 20% slower than reading from print and a lot harder on the eyes. And although people browsing the Web are looking for information, theyíre also very impatient. For these reasons, most visitors to your web site will only scan your content; they wonít read it.
You probably scan when you read the newspaper so you know what I mean. You glance at the headlines and from there choose the article you want to read. This happens on the Web, too, but even more so. Within an article or web page, people will scan for sub- headlines. So, whereas theyíll read the whole article in the newspaper, theyíll only read bits and pieces of it on the Web.
Armed with this knowledge, you can make your content much easier for people to read.
1. Provide a Table of Contents at the beginning of long pages.
Adding a Table of Contents to the beginning of your article or ezine enhances a readerís experience.
Hereís a comment from one of my ezine subscribers: "First off, I really like the ĎTell-em-what-they're-going-to-getí approach to the header of your ezine. Just had to tell you."
Heís talking about my Table of Contents, something so simple, yet it warranted a comment from a reader.
If your article or ezine is in HTML format, use the "named anchor" tag to make the items in your Table of Contents "clickable."
Note: Not everyoneís email software renders HTML properly. Always offer your readers a plain text version of your newsletter. One day weíll all use HTML for our ezines, but weíre not quite there yet. Some autoresponders and email management software will "sniff out" a recipientís ability to render HTML and deliver the appropriate email (for this to work, you have to write two versions of your newsletter -- one in plain text and one in HTML).
2. Break up your page with sub-headlines.
Provide your readers with the ability to scan your page and pick out the topics that interest them. If you donít provide sub- headlines, thereís a very good chance your readers will skip the page entirely.
On a web page or in an ebook, use a different colour for the sub- headlines or bold them. Use underlines on web pages cautiously as readers may think the text is a link. In a text-based ezine, you should indicate sub-headlines with bullets, asterisks, numbers, or arrows (made up of dashes and a right-angle bracket).
You can also type headings in all capital letters, but this will make them harder to scan. Most people use shape to help them recognize words. If you use all capital letters, you
remove this ability and slow the reader down. Remember, impatience is the norm on the Internet, so try not to put up any roadblocks to easy reading.
3. Break up passages.
Notice how all my paragraphs are short? No more than a few lines each? I strive to keep each paragraph to no more than 100 words. Thatís to provide small chunks of information that can be easily digested.
Note: Just because a paragraph is 109 words, doesnít mean you have to automatically try to break it into two smaller paragraphs. Just use common sense and youíll be fine.
4. Create white space to reduce eye-fatigue.
Breaking up your page into small paragraphs creates plenty of white space to rest the readerís eyes. Itís important to minimize readersí fatigue so theyíll keep reading. If this article were written as one long chunk, you wouldnít be reading it by now, especially if you were reading it online.
5. Use short sentences.
As you may also have noticed, this article is not made up of long, convoluted sentences. Each sentence is fairly short and therefore easily read at a glance.
You donít want to tax readers thinking either. Shorter sentences are easier to understand and digest. If you want people to "get your message," keep your sentences short.
6. Use short lines of text.
When writing your ezine, use a text editor and set it to put a hard return after every 65 characters. That will ensure your ezine articles have short lines that can be read at a glance. I use TextPad for this (http://www.textpad.com).
When Iím finished writing my ezine content, I cut and paste the text into my autoresponder and it retains the hard returns. You can also cut and paste your text into the body of an email.
On your web page, use a table to contain your text. Do not set your table to 100% width. If you do, it will stretch to fit any sized browser and your lines of text will end up long and difficult to read.
7. Use bullets.
Bullets are read even by scanners.
8. Enclose text in boxes or indent it.
If you indent text, put a Horizontal Rule before and after it. This trick makes it look boxed, but is more sophisticated than using a table with a border.
9. Avoid busy backgrounds on your web page.
To make text easy to read, there needs to be plenty of contrast between the background colour and the font colour. Purple text on a red background is unreadable. Any text on a busy background is difficult to read. If you want a patterned background, thatís fine, just change the colour of the table cell in which your text appears to white or a pale solid colour and make your text black or very dark. Hereís an example: http://www.racing-pigeon- fancier.com
10. Use plain English.
Most web pages, ezines and ebooks should stay away from academic writing. If youíre not writing a thesis, donít write like a professor. Instead you should be aiming at a grade level of between 6 and 8. Iím not telling you to dumb down your text, but to make it clearer, shorter and easier to read.
11. Write in a chatty, conversational style.
Avoid corporate-speak. Corporate-speak is language that speaks to no one in particular. Instead, visualize one of your readers and write to that person. If you write to someone you know, your style will automatically be more casual, friendly and readable. People will feel youíre speaking directly to them. Yes, your style might not click with everyone, but better that than clicking with no one.
12. Use contractions.
To make your writing easier to read, use contractions. "Iíll tell you more next month" reads easier than "I will tell you more next month." Itís also less formal. Your ezine or sales copy is not the place for formal writing. If you currently write for print publications and want to start writing for the Web, some of the rules you live by will have to be abandoned.
13. Choose a sans serif font for your text.
On the Internet, a sans-serif font like Verdana is much easier to read than Times New Roman (serif font). In print, the opposite is true and this confuses many people who go from writing for print to writing for the Web. Use serif fonts for headings, to provide variety. However, do not use more than two or three fonts altogether. Otherwise, your text will look amateurish. It will also be hard to read, as your visitorsí eyes will constantly need to adjust to the changing styles. Note: Virtually every book you read in print is type-set in a serif font like Times New Roman...every page, even the chapter headings. Itís not boring and no one thinks twice about it. In the same way, you donít need to use different fonts on every page of your web site. Just remember, online Verdana is the font of choice.
14. Specify a font in your HTML code.
Remember to specify a font in your HTML code. If you leave the font at the default, most web browsers will render your text in Times New Roman. You donít want this to happen.
Itís a good idea to specify a family of fonts so PC and Mac browsers can choose their own pre-installed fonts. I use this family of fonts: "Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif."
Note: As a last resort, if none of the first three fonts are installed, "sans-serif" tells a browser to use any other sans- serif font it has available.
15. Clean up typos and spelling mistakes.
I know it sounds obvious to tell you to check your spelling, but bad spelling and typos are rampant on the Web.
Run your spell-checker, but also eyeball your content several times. Your spell-checker will not catch typos like "form" instead of "from." Print out your text and ask someone else to read it...preferably, someone who can spell.
I'm not just being picky, by the way. Spelling errors and typos slow a reader down and may even confuse them. You never want to do that. If the reader loses momentum, youíre dead; theyíll likely stop reading and go away.
16. Use exclamation marks sparingly!!!!
The Internet has spawned a love affair with the exclamation mark. This poor, beleaguered symbol is so overworked on the Web Iím surprised it hasnít up and quit. Itís very amateurish to saturate your text with exclamation marks. It signals HYPE!!!!! And insincerity!!!
Prospects will become customers when they trust you. How much trust do you put in an ad or sales letter thatís full of exclamation marks? Your readers are just as wary as you.
Note: There is a place for exclamation marks in impassioned advertising copy. Just donít over-do it. And never use more than one exclamation point at the end of a sentence.
17. Remove "that" wherever possible.
Example 1: Call now so you donít miss our July special. Example 2: Call now so that you donít miss our July special. Whatís the difference? You glide right over the words in the first example, but in the second example, the word "that" halts you for a split second. And as you know by now, any stumbling block, no matter how minor, can mean bye-bye reader.
This isnít all there is to know about writing for the Internet, of course. But if you follow these simple rules, youíll go a long way toward keeping your readers glued to your text. Hopefully, long enough to entice them to sign up for your newsletter, join your affiliate program, or buy your product.
Take-Away Tip: Remember, most online readers are actually scanners. To get scanners to stop long enough to read your content, you must make your text visually appealing and effortless to read. Use short, simple sentences, plain English, contractions, short paragraphs, lots of sub-headlines and a friendly voice.
Andrea Wilson is a writer, web designer and author of the email newsletter "From Niche to Rich!" You can email Andrea at firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe to her newsletter at http://www.ablewebs.com/newsletter.htm. Visit Andreaís web site at http://www.ablewebs.com.