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Writing For The Web SUNY Cortland March 31, 2010 Ann Scholl Rinehart Senior Writer 800-553-8878 ext. 5132 © Stamats, Inc. 2010.

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Presentation on theme: "Writing For The Web SUNY Cortland March 31, 2010 Ann Scholl Rinehart Senior Writer 800-553-8878 ext. 5132 © Stamats, Inc. 2010."— Presentation transcript:

1 Writing For The Web SUNY Cortland March 31, 2010 Ann Scholl Rinehart Senior Writer 800-553-8878 ext. 5132 © Stamats, Inc. 2010

2 Agenda 1.Embracing Language 2.Understanding your Audience 3.Creating Visual Content 4.Writing Persuasive Web Copy 5.Improving your Writing 6.Developing Searchable Web Copy


4 What are YOU looking for?

5 All Web Users Have Goals Complete a task Locate knowledge Keep up/keep current Interact/connect

6 Survey of 1,000 college-bound high school seniors How do they find a school online? Google or other search to find schools by name41% Use a site to match me, like MyCollegeOptions or The College Board38% Enter words or phrases into Google35% Refer to a printed document with a URL13% Use NCAA or other athletic site5% Guess until I get it4% Research on MySpace or Facebook3% 72% land on a schools home page after conducting a search Source: Noel-Levitz; used with permission 2009 E-Expectations Study

7 What do college-bound teens want to do on a colleges web site? Source: Noel-Levitz; used with permission 2009 E-Expectations Study

8 Descriptions of programs/majors are the most commonly sought after items of interest for high school students when visiting a college Web site. - Stamats TeensTALK

9 QualitiesPercent Description of programs/majors31% Pictures of the college: dorms, classrooms, activities24% Current student testimonials9% Easy to navigate/use9% General overview/basic information9% Admissions standards8% Financial aid/scholarships8% Athletics8% Activities available7% Tuition, cost to attend, fees7% Virtual tours6% Basic statistics: GPA, grads, admission rate, etc.5% TeensTALK: Most Liked Web Features

10 Instead of a person or department, marketing is an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating, and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders (AMA, 2004) –Create value –Communicate value –Deliver value Experience marketing –What elements combine to form the educational experience? The answer will involve becoming truly student-centric Marketing Orientation for the Web

11 If you wanted to begin gathering information on enrolling in college, would you… Adult UG Percent Yes Visit specific colleges Web sites96% Contact the admissions office at a specific college89% Conduct a general Web search for college-related Web sites78% Talk with friends or family members70% Get advice from someone in a career Id like to pursue63% Get advice from an employer for whom Id like to work40% Talk with my supervisor32% Talk with my companys human resources staff36& Adults - Sources of Information Source: Stamats 2008 Adult StudentsTALK

12 When students arrive at a Web site, 85% said that they used links to find answers to their questions instead of using a search box or site index, and they expect links to take them directly to answers 15% said they dont pay much attention to the link choices and head straight for the search box or site index 80% said the content presented on a college or university Web site is more important than how it looks 18% said the look and feel of a school site is more important than what they find to read Source: Noel-Levitz; used with permission 2009 E-Expectations Study

13 What Readers Often Find: Bad Language Catalogs and brochures _overview.htm Information dumps Non-visual text layouts Too many choices

14 Just Plain Bad Writing Your inquiry about the use of the entrance area at the library for the purpose of displaying posters and leaflets about Welfare and Supplementary Benefit rights, gives rise to the question of the provenance and authoritativeness of the material to be displayed. Posters and leaflets issued by the Central Office of Information, the Department of Health and Social Security and other authoritative bodies are usually displayed in libraries, but items of a disputatious or polemic kind, whilst not necessarily excluded, are considered individually.

15 Why Does This Happen? Copy is institution-driven, not audience-driven Copy is an afterthought; not written in conjunction with/ developed independently of architecture and design Many dont yet acknowledge that writing is a big part of what online experience is about –No editorial or review process –Not enough writers –Too many writers –Content moves too slow or fast –No single-source authority

16 Writing for the Web is Crucial to Quality Sites Successful Web sites employ professional writing, editing, and publishing strategies and tactics. Successful Web sites make life easier for readers, have large and loyal audiences, help accomplish institutional goals, and present an accurate and productive image to the world. Successful Web sites do not depend on technology to be successful.

17 The Web is a Publishing Medium A Web site publishes content targeted at a group of readers and will benefit from an editorial infrastructure: Managing Editor/Publisher: responsible for whole site Editor (s): responsible for nature and quality of content per section Author(s): creates content Copy Editor: ensures content is understandable and readable

18 A Working Editorial Process Delivers: Complete and accurate information Information in a user-friendly format Consistent and natural writing style without errors Multiple writers drawing from a variety of information sources

19 What Web Writers Do: Write new copy and creatively repurpose existing material Guide audiences to information, education, and action Convey right messages to right audiences at right time and place (contextually appropriate) Create language that draws search engines

20 Rachels Advice Parents and families are inextricably linked and we should be talking directly to/with them and often The experience prospects have on your web site weighs heavily in their decision whether to probe further into your programs and offerings, and how theyd fit on our campus We need to focus more on content. Content, content, content. Make it readable, printable, reference-able, searchable Focus on your navigation. Test it with college- bound students. Dont use internal lingo Source: Noel-Levitz; used with permission. With thanks to Rachel Reuben (

21 Understanding Your Audience

22 Reader Characteristics Practical and impatient Skeptical Fickle Seeking guidance

23 To whom are we communicating? What are their tasks? What is critical to them? What are they not getting? How do they consume content? How can we help them be effective? Web Writers Need to Appreciate…

24 Web Readers are Impatient Six seconds thats how long you have to make an impression on a visitor to your home page before they will move on…

25 Identify & Limit Readers/Audiences Prospective undergraduate students Prospective graduate students Prospective faculty Community leaders Alumni Donors Parents Current students

26 Create Personas Focus on a representative audience member/type Identify their goals and tasks (1-3) Create fictional identities Build from usability research

27 Personas Should Include: Personal Information Home, age, hobbies, media habits, personality, creative work and ambitions Alumni/donor Information Major, grad year, career, age, location, aspirations Internet Usage Experience, primary uses, favorite sites, hours online, computerconnection User Goals Information preferences, academic goals, outside needs, competitor information

28 Profile: Mary the International Student Its 7am Friday morning and Mary has been up for at least an hour. She has been working on a paper for her professor, Dr. Bishop, a world-renowned engineer. Plus, lately, she has been thinking a lot about what she should do next year, after graduation. She is torn between staying in the United States and returning to Nigeria. She would like to be near her family, but it is more important that she finds a good job to help support her other siblings. Getting a good job after graduation was ultimately why she chose to pursue electrical engineering in the first place. Her whole family has sacrificed a lot to pay for college in the U.S. and she feels obligated to help her other siblings enjoy the same kind of higher education opportunities.

29 Who is on your shoulder when you write?


31 Creating Visual Content

32 Print Content Linear and provides pre-determined order Documents form a whole & provide entire information Uses familiar conventions: table of contents, prefaces, indexes, etc. Never changes

33 Web Content Non-linear and encourages visitor to take their own path More flexible and up-to-date Content divided into multiple hyperlinked pages More informative and less conceptually driven

34 How People Really Read The Web Surveys and studies consistently show that around 80 percent of test users always scan a page first before reading a section word by word.

35 Reading vs. Scanning Progression is word by word across the page and down Key information is not visually called out Meaning is gathered from the syntax (the way words are put together to form phrases or clauses) Progression is rapidly around the page as user looks for key words and phrases Key information is visually called out Meaning clusters around key words and phrases as the user finds them.

36 F-Shaped Pattern Eyetracking Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen, Kara Pernice

37 So What Does this Mean? Users wont read your content word by word The first two paragraphs are crucial for conveying information Subheads, paragraphs and bullet points are crucial for guiding readers to the information they are seeking

38 Typical Web Page Lots of running copy No visual call-outs Left-to-right, top-to- bottom progression

39 Scannable Web Page Headers and short intro paragraphs Photos and graphics Bulleted lists, boldface copy, boxed copy

40 For Scannable Copy, Write: Short paragraphs Heads and Subheads Bulleted Lists Highlights and boldface Quotes and sidebars

41 Short copy invites, introduces, and persuades –Top-level pages Long copy should be deeper on site –Two clicks in Long copy needs to be well-written and relevant –Compelling message, info, etc. –Gives readers what they want to hear Long copy doesnt need to look long –Break up text into small paragraphs with heads, subheads Long vs. Short Copy

42 What are your Goals? Establish institutional/departmental identity Exchange information Inform Instruct Motivate Persuade Provide news Provide technical support Recruit Request information

43 Readers Web Preferences Users can enter a site at any page and move any way they choose Online version of a given topic should be about half word count of print version Users read about 25 percent more slowly from screens than from paper Users dont like to scroll through blocks of text

44 To Meet Reader Preferences Make every page independent & able to explain itself Link to background or explanatory information Place most important information at top of page Give them only what they want/need to know

45 Start With Good Heads Main idea of the page and clearly indicates content No longer than seven words on average Clear to reader why its important

46 Break Up Text Short paragraphs divide information into useful chunks Each paragraph should contain one main idea; second paragraph contains second main idea, etc. Sometimes one or two sentences per chunk Be careful not to go overboard: Breaking up text into too many chucks can frustrate readers Links are for readers who want to learn more about the topic

47 Love Subheads Keep readers moving forward Emphasizes word, phrase, or idea from copy Breaks up blocks of copy into readable chunks

48 Depend On Lists Best way to highlight important information Eases reading and slows down scanning eye Satisfy the list-hungry Use more lists than print, but keep lists short - limit items to 9 Use numbered when sequence is important Use bulleted when sequences is not important

49 How to Map Copy Study site architecture and content inventory Study the templatelayout, design elements, position of images & photos, links Write in relation to visual environment

50 Write Classic Newspaper Structure Header that summarizes Lead/intro paragraph delivers the conclusion Body copy delivers the details Who, what, why, where, when, how

51 Paragraph Structure 101 Start paragraphs with topic sentences: Use topic sentences in combination with specific heads and subheads Follow topic sentence with 1,2,3 structure based on cause and effect –Writing for the web is challenging for most people. The web works differently than print Web audiences are impatient The Web is constantly changing


53 Writing Persuasive Web Copy

54 What Marketing Copy Can Do Balance institutional integrity with the need to appeal to various audiences Send consistent messages Extend institutional brand and build/enhance reputation Communicate character

55 How to Write Marketing Copy Avoid bragging Avoid cheese and sleaze Make a case Emphasize benefits over features Whats in it for me?

56 Features-driven Copy At X college, we pride ourselves on the personal attention our professors give their students. Our student- to-faculty ratio is 13:1, and our class size averages 22 students.

57 Benefits-driven Copy The only teacher/student ratio that matters is 1:1. Many colleges talk about small classes and how that facilitates interaction. Well, elevators are small too, and not much communication happens in there. The point is this: real interaction happens not just when youre in the same proximity as your professor, but when she actually takes the time to get to know you and how you learn best. Thats what happens at SUNY Cortland.

58 About ACC - Before

59 About ACC - After

60 Marketing Tips Get readers attention right away and be specific Avoid hyperbole, negative constructions, and superlatives (most, best, perfect, greatest) Make calls to action clear: what should readers do Convey experience: what does it feel like to be here? Appeal to emotion and intellect Use human voices: tell real stories

61 Keep in Mind Its not an essay Its not about you Its not a brochure Its not a catalog


63 Improving Your Writing for the Web

64 Web Copy Should: Be direct, clear, and concise Balance information and appeal Speak to different audiences differently, yet maintain consistent tone

65 Follow Writer George Orwells Rules 1.Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print. 2.Never use a long word when a short one will do. 3.If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. 4.Never use the passive [voice] where you can use the active. 5.Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. 6.Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

66 Omit Unnecessary Words Too many Prepositions –Wrong: The most important part of the functionality of the site is meeting the marketing goals. –Right: A sites most important function is meeting marketing goals. Intensify words and vague adjectives (very, really, a bit, mainly) –Wrong: IPods are very common and very popular. –Right: IPods are common and popular. Redundant adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, and phrases –Wrong: This revolutionary new product adds audio to your site. –Right: This revolutionary product adds audio to your site Verbs converted to nouns –Wrong: Take into consideration the cost of maintaining data. –Right: Consider the cost of maintaining data.

67 Active Voice Emphasizes person or thing acting Built on strong verbs instead of forms of to be, past participles, and strings of pronouns Active voice: –You can use graphic frames to keep footers visible at all times. Passive voice: –Graphic frames can be used to keep footers visible at all times.

68 Word Choice Avoid buzzwords and clichéd modifiers –State of the Art, Cutting-edge, Academic Excellence Favor simple words over ten-dollar words –Use instead of utilize –Ease instead of facilitate Use concrete, precise, definite, specific words –Ten instead of a lot –Bright orange instead of colorful –Blue-eyed instead of beautiful

69 Key Editing Questions Is this clear? Is there a simpler way to say this? Is there a shorter way to say this? Is this necessary?



72 It all starts with Google, from there I can go wherever I want. - Prospective student 83 percent of adult students would use a search engine to find out information on enrolling in college 83 percent of adult students would use a search engine to find out information on enrolling in college I added this

73 Search – Be Discoverable Important, and will be for a while 80 percent of web traffic starts with search Google still the dominant search engine I added this

74 This is Your Search Engine Visitor Hopefully, theyll be back Search Engines dont care if the result helps or hurts you Metadata feeds the machine Relevant content feeds the visitor

75 Your Job: Links, Page Titles, Footers, Contact Info, Forms, Instructions Help readers understand where they are and why they are there Help readers know what to do next Simple, clear, and obvious and compelling Should work like good signage

76 Web Writers Write Metadata Metadata is language linked to the search process Works on keyword phrases and one word metatags embedded in HTML Connects to the Web Community

77 To Write Searchable Copy: Do keyword research with services like WordTracker Use real text, not graphics (PICTURE) Work into heads and subheads Employ keyword phrases throughout entire page

78 Establish Standards Develop a web style guide Standards & accessibility issues Content/copy guide AP or Chicago Manual of Style for language Web site vs. web site Home page vs. homepage Graphic design interface/identity guide

79 In Closing, Remember These Copy Tips Users read language first Visualize the language you use Persuade, dont sell Write well Write for the community

80 … and Keep in Mind Knowledge (content) is heart of a college or university You publish more, read more, communicate more than anyone/anything Academics are original information workers You should be good at writing and publishing Web content

81 Resources Content Strategy for the Web; Kristina Halverson Letting Go of the Words; Janice (Ginny) Redish Nielsen & Pernice Eyetracking Web Usability Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click? ; Susan M Weinschenk, Ph.D. Content Critical: Gaining Competitive Advantage Through High-Quality Web Content; Gerry McGovern and Rob Norton The Web Content Style Guide: An Essential Reference for Online Writers, Editors and Managers; Gerry McGovern and Rob Norton (Jakob Nielsen) Information Architecture for the World Wide Web; Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville Dont Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability; Steve Krug Designing Web Sites That Work: Usability for the Web; Tom Brinck, Darren Gergle, & Scott D. Wood

82 Thank you! Ann Scholl Rinehart Senior Writer 800.553.8878, ext. 5132 ©Stamats, Inc. 2010

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