Focus your web copy

Make it relevant

Usability guru Jakob Nielsen recommends condensing copy by 50% online.

Focus your web copy

Is the juice worth the squeeze? When cutting webpages in half, focus on the half that’s relevant to visitors. Image by Thomas Hafeneth

That’s certainly a useful guideline. But no single, overarching rule makes sense all the time.

In fact, some visitors seek more information online.

How can you cut web copy in half? Choose the half that’s relevant to your audience members:

1. Give readers what they want.

Besides making your webpages shorter — and serving your audience better — relevant copy is more effective.

According to Jan H. Spyridakis, author of “Guidelines for Authoring Comprehensible Web Pages and Evaluating Their Success,” readers:

  • Understand better and remember more when they’re interested in the topic (Asher 1980; Stevens 1980; Baldwin, Peleg-Bruckner, and McClintock 1985).
  • Focus more attention on more relevant information (Celsi and Olson 1989).
  • Use a website for a specific purpose only when they’re looking for something particular (Rajani and Rosenberg 1999).
  • Are distracted by irrelevant information“Unnecessary information … prevented users from finding what they were looking for even if it was right in front of them,” the researchers report.
  • Tend to stay with a page if it contains interesting information.

To give readers what they want, put yourself in the readers’ shoes.

2. Cut the irrelevant stuff.

Then cut the crap. Or at least move the mission statement off of the home page.

Filter out unnecessary content, Spyridakis suggests. Do your web visitors really need to see your mission, vision, values, pledge and org charts before they even find out what your organization does?

Skip the internal blah-blah.

“Designers can all too easily lean on information that is current and relevant to people inside the organization,” Spyridakis writes, “but is irrelevant to outsiders who visit an organization’s website.”

Don’t do that.

3. Don’t drop the details.

Keep Amy Gahran’s insights in mind. Gahran, media consultant and editor of the blog, says:

“Many web writers cut too much while saying too little,” writes Gahran. “Short is not the point. Making your point is the point.

“The true goal for web writers is not to provide ultra-short content. It’s more important to clearly state your key points at the top and make the rest of the content easy to read and navigate.

“Pages can easily be halved just by dropping lots of details. But this doesn’t help readers who are looking for details. Plus, you might still wind up with convoluted sentences and vague explanations.”

Don’t do that either.

  • Cut Through the Clutter Online

    Because “short is too long for mobile”

    “What’s slightly annoying” on a desktop can be “overwhelming” on a smartphone, according to the authors of User Experience for Mobile Applications and Websites.

    Cut Through the Clutter Online in Chicago


    • It’s 48% harder to understand messages on a smartphone than on a laptop.
    • People read 20% to 30% slower online. But they read about 30-milliseconds-a-word slower on mobile devices than they do on desktops.
    • Attention spans on mobile devices are 50% shorter than on laptops. So while mobile reading takes longer, people spend less time on a page when reading on their phones.
    Learn three tweaks that will increase webpage usability by up to 124%.

    How do you avoid overwhelming mobile visitors?

    At Writing for the Web and Mobile — our two-day hands-on web-writing master class on June 12-13 in Chicago — you’ll learn proven-in-the-lab best practices for increasing webpage usability up to 124%. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

    • Pass The 1-2-3-4-5 Rule for online paragraphs. Tip: Test it on your smartphone for best results.
    • Increase usability by 58% with one simple step.
    • Make long webpages easier to read on a smartphone with three quick tips.
    • Use a cool — free! — tool for testing your webpage’s clarity. Get a paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of ways you can measurably increase readability.
    • Avoid The Mobile Paradox: The No. 1 activity for mobile users is wasting time. But mobile users get “visibly angry” at verbose sites that waste their time. How do you avoid enraging readers?


Source: Jan H. Spyridakis, “Guidelines for Authoring Comprehensible Web Pages and Evaluating Their Success” (PDF), Technical Communication, August 2000

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