1. Know who you are

  • What does your brand represent?  Have a firm grasp of what you promise to stakeholders and how you are perceived.
  • What are your business goals?

2. Set goals

Start by asking three questions:

  • Who are your users?
  • What are they trying to do?
  • What do you want them to take away from your site?

Your content should represent the intersection of the users’ priorities and your own.


3. Make a map

Think of your site like a treasure map.

  • Tell visitors where they are. For instance, you are at Washington State University/About WSU.
  • Guide users to high priority content. Think in terms of what they’ll be looking for—and what messages you want them to take away. Create information architecture to help them find it quickly. Make it intuitive. Avoid redundancy.
  • Keep menus simple. Too many choices add complexity, not value. Make it easy for customers to find what they seek. Only add items after considering how they will impact the content that’s already there.

 4. Chunk

Most web users don’t read content word for word. Instead, they scan. Content best supports scanning behavior when it’s broken into digestible chunks.

  • Keep your introductory text short. Many users don’t read it and skip straight to actionable content: the place where they can click, type, or do something else. The purpose of introductory text is to help readers understand the rest of the page. It should tell them two things: what they’ll find on the page (what the purpose of the page is) and why they should care.
  • Use bullets. If you’ve got a list, remember that people look at lists with bullets 15 percent more often than lists without them (says Jakob Nielsen).

5. Connect to other resources on the web

  • Make content actionable. Link users to highly relevant pages where they can find more detail.

6. Choose words carefully

  • Speak to the reader directly. Write to the reader in the same vernacular that you’d speak to him or her in person. Instead of saying, “Students should avoid parking in yellow lots on football weekends,” say “Avoid parking in yellow lots on football weekends.”
  • Frontload your most important content. Generally speaking, users pay the most attention to information at the top of the page. If you want it read, key content must appear in one of the first two paragraphs—preferably the first.
  • Use information-bearing words in links and subheadings. They let readers know what to expect in the text that follows. Avoid clever or cute copy. Instead, choose words that act as signposts to guide readers through the page.
  • Write precise headlines. They should be short, should clearly summarize content that follows, and should be understandable when read out of context. (Headlines often appear without articles in search engine results.) Headlines should help users predict whether they’ll like the content that follows before they click. They should also be front-loaded with keywords, so users who scan only the beginning will want to read further.
  • Say what’s in it for the reader. Write web copy that clearly and objectively and communicates benefits.
  • Cut the fluff. Jargon and marketing-speak only obscure messages and undercut the reader’s trust.
  • Keep it short. Deliver your messages as simply and in as few words as possible to help readers scan. Says Gerry McGovern, “The first 3-4 words in a sentence are absolutely critical. If they are not informative, the reader ignores or scans on.”
  • Use nouns to help readers identify. Try using nouns that help people identify themselves with a group. Studies have shown that a statement like, “I am a chocolate eater” will affect a reader’s preference for chocolate more strongly than the statement, “I eat chocolate a lot.” In a survey about voting, a Stanford University research team sometimes asked, “How important is it to you to be a voter in tomorrow’s election,” versus “How important is it to you to vote in tomorrow’s election?” When the noun “be a voter” was used instead of the verb “to vote,” 11 percent more respondents went to the polls the following day.

7. Be seen by search engines

  • Use keyword-rich text. Choose words and phrases that users type into search queries.
  • Arrange the site architecture and each page strategically. The way that text, images, and videos are arranged on a page communicates what you think is most important. It communicates your priorities to visitors as well as to search engines.

8. Mix media

  • Make images and videos relevant. Users are interested in videos and photos only as they relate to the information they are seeking. Choose videos and photos that add value.
  • Use images and video to communicate what words can’t. Videos and photos are a great for illustrating processes, demonstrating methods, explaining complex information, and showing the breadth and/or depth of services.
  • Include images and video to raise search engine rankings. Google’s “Universal Search” system takes into account search listings from its news, video, images, local, and book search engines. Sites that include videos rank higher in search engines than competitors.