Writing for the web

Writing for the web is less formal and more concise than writing for other channels. Follow these guidelines to get your message across to your audience.

Keep in mind that your website cannot be everything to everybody. Focus on your primary audience when writing for your website.

Why it matters

Your audience reads differently online than they would on other channels (i.e. – print materials) and will typically scan for information. An average visitor will only read 28% of the words on a page.

Get to the point

Your online audience has a short attention span and your content needs to be written to make information easy to find. Make sure to:

  • Be direct
    • Put the information you want your audience to see right up front (i.e. – at the top of the page and do not bury it within a ton of unnecessary information)
  • Be concise
    • Short sentences and paragraphs improve scannability of the page for all users.
  • Use short, 3-4 sentence paragraphs
  • Skip unnecessary words and avoid jargon
    • Use familiar words and simpler language to make it easier for the audience to digest (i.e. – instead of ‘provides guidance for’ use ‘guides’)
  • Write to your audience
    • Personalize your content by speaking directly to your audience. I.e. – using the word ‘you’

Keywords

Keywords are the most relevant words and phrases that identify what your content is about and optimizes search engine results.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and keyword selection should be part of the content strategy. This allows you to use those keywords (or synonyms) as you write copy instead of trying to cram them in right before you launch your site.

Page titles and URLs

Please follow these simple best practices:

  • Ideally, a page title should match the URL
  • Both should include keywords
  • Both should be as short as possible without losing meaning
  • Users should know what the page is about based on the page title/URL
  • Keywords shouldn’t be duplicated
  • Unnecessary words (i.e. – ‘and’ or ‘the’) and double or triple hyphens should be removed from URLs

Headers and sub-headers

Headers and sub-headers will divide your content into easy to scan sections and help your audience find relevant information on the page quickly and easily.

Below are the appropriate uses for each heading style:

  • H1 - page title; use title component
  • H2 - subheading of H1
  • H3 - sub section of H2
  • H4 / H5 - for footnotes or related link areas

If header styles don't follow page hierarchy, your page will appear lower in Google search results and users with accessibility needs will have issues following the content on the page.

Lists

Help break up paragraphs of content by using bulleted or numbered lists. This makes the content easier for your audience to scan.

Links

Follow these best practises for links listed on your page:

  • Copy needs to be concise and descriptive - link copy is sufficient to understand what the user is about to open when clicking on the link or button. It also helps users relying on screen readers to be clear on where the link is leading
    • Write: "Beedie School of Business website"; Don't write: "Click here" or "Visit website"
  • SFU links should open in the same tab
  • External links should open in a new tab - you don’t want to be taking the user away from SFU sites
  • When all links are added, you can use W3C Link Checker to check that you have no broken links

Calls to action

Don’t forget to make the call to action or key task(s) of the page clear to your audience. This can be done through:

  • Clear, concise copy
  • Using a clear sub-header
  • Adding buttons

Revising old content

As part of your audit, you should remove content 2 years or older. This mainly applies to blog posts and news stories.

Your website will be penalized for any old content that doesn’t meet Google’s quality standards and as a result your site will show up lower in search results.

Editorial style guide

When writing for web, please follow the SFU Editorial Style Guide.

AEM help

Check out the online documentation on the CMS Help website at www.sfu.ca/cms.

Connect with IT Services at cms-help@sfu.ca if you have general questions about AEM or if you’re experiencing any technical issues, such as:

  • Components not displaying correctly
  • Errors in AEM or on the site