Don’t muddy the message

A Web presence is one of the few links you have to your customers – sometimes the only link. So if visitors are frustrated by its content, design or navigability, they will leave. And they won’t come back.

Teri Morrison, a senior writer at iContent,

a Web-based interactive content provider based in Markham, Ont., shares five ways companies can avoid common writing mistakes that will hurt their online image.

1. Build a solid foundation

A business must create a structure that’s easy to navigate, the idea being that as people use your site, they learn how it works. Such clarity applies to design, but even to the use of headlines and sub-heads. “”If they see something that’s big, they know that it’s the most important thing on the page,”” says Morrison.

Hyperlinks also must have a consistent look so they’re easy to spot. Morrison’s not a fan of invisible hyperlinks; she’d rather see them underlined. Whatever your preference, make sure it stays the same throughout.

2. The readability factor

Keep content short, limiting paragraphs to one or two sentences and individual pages to between 250 and 500 words. Avoid long, run-on sentences. You want the eye of the reader to keep moving along the page.

Content should be more like journalistic than marketing writing, with the most important information at the top and the least important at the bottom. You can be less formal in your online writing than you would be in printed materials.

3. Know your audience

A common assumption is that all visitors to a site read at about the same level. It’s not true. A good rule of thumb is to write simply (to a Grade 6 level on a site for the general population). “”There’s no need to use a $5 word when you can use one that’s a dollar,”” says Morrison. “”Trust me, when you’re marketing your company, you come across as far less credible than you think when you use a lot of jargon and lingo.””

(See for an amusing but educational roundup of the latest infuriating marketing-related buzzwords.)

4. Everybody wants to change the world

Many company presidents plan new, exciting and dynamic Web sites they’re certain will result in a flood of amazed visitors. It’s not going to happen. However, they can make attractive, effective sites that are visually interesting. The key is to have realistic expectations. Graphics, animation, charts and tables can all be useful tools if the effect is not too busy or complex. Don’t overdo it.

5. Where’s your uniformity?

If your Web site is important to you, consider a style guide. It doesn’t have to be complicated or long, but it’s wise to make certain decisions about what spelling conventions you’ll follow and how you’ll refer to your products and services.

Larger companies will have a brand identity, a logo and rules about how their name appears in print. But even a small company with a five- or 10-page site should keep a running tally of style points so its Web writers can be consistent.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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