Words, words, words... How do you catch – and keep – the attention of online wanderers with your website copy?

Think about why people will be coming to your site, what actions you want them to take and how they will be persuaded to engage with your organisation. Then all you need to do is keep your copy Concise, Obvious, Purposeful and Elegant.

Concise

  • Write on a need-to-know basis
  • Keep paragraphs short
  • Avoid overlong sentences

Obvious

  • Put the important stuff first
  • Keep the language clear and simple
  • Use the active voice

Purposeful

  • Always include calls to action
  • Take the user on a journey
  • Be bold

Elegant

  • Structure your pages for easy reading
  • Make key words easy to spot
  • Get the basics right

CONCISE

Write on a need-to-know basis

Think about how you read web pages. You’re looking to find out as quickly as possible whether you’re interested in what’s on offer. If you want to persuade visitors to engage with your organisation, tell them what they need to know, in as few words as possible.

You probably have a huge amount of information you would love to share with potential supporters. They won’t have time to read it all, though.

Get to the point. And don’t be afraid to cut.

Keep paragraphs short

If you’ve engaged your visitor in the first sentence or two, they may want to find out more. That doesn’t mean they want to read a long block of text – that’s not what the internet was designed for.

Keep your paragraphs short (we’d recommend 1-3 sentences) and limit each one to one particular idea. This will not only keep your copy concise, but will also give a clear structure to your content, making it easy to follow.

Avoid overlong sentences

Each sentence needs to be to the point. A rambling sentence will lose the reader’s attention, particularly if you’re trying to say too many things at the same time. You want to make it easy for visitors to your site.

If in doubt, put a full stop in. Split your sentence into two (or more) clear ideas.

Be careful, though: too many very short sentences will make your copy sound like a machine gun. Keep it varied. A mixture of shorter and longer sentences will make your content more readable.

OBVIOUS

Put the important stuff first

How much of a web page do you read before deciding whether to click away or not? If a visitor to your site hasn’t seen anything in the first few lines to persuade them to keep reading, you’ll lose them.

That’s why you need to put the essential information first. You can go into further detail below, but you’ll need to have given readers a reason to stay on the page if you expect them to get that far.

Keep the language clear and simple

  • Keep it simple – use simpler words to avoid confusion.
  • Avoid jargon – the language you use within your organisation might not be understandable to a new visitor to your site. Find a more obvious term. And spell out abbreviations and acronyms, at least on the first mention in a page.
  • Be clear – make sure there is no ambiguity in your copy. Make sure it describes exactly what it is meant to describe. Get someone else to check.

Use the active voice

Put the subject first in your sentences. Saying ‘we’ or ‘you’ need to do something leaves no doubt as to who can make the change. Saying something ‘needs to be done’ (passive) is vague and uninspiring.

Make it obvious who is driving the action, has made a difference or needs to step up. This will also make your copy more dynamic.

PURPOSEFUL

Always include calls to action

Every item of content is on your site for a reason. Think about what that reason is. What action do you want website visitors to take? What will they be wanting to do as a result of your page?

Make sure there is an easy, obvious action for visitors to take. It could be about signing up to your services, donating to an appeal or sharing a story – or anything that takes a casual browser to the next level of engagement.

Every post on your site should have at least one call to action.

    • What are the most relevant calls to action for that post?
    • Where will you put them so visitors can find them as soon as they’re engaged?
    • How many will you have, to offer options for different audiences without overwhelming visitors?
    • How will you phrase them to be engaging and clear (eg ‘Help us save more lives by donating to our medical research campaign’)?

Take the user on a journey

Every visitor will have reached your site for a reason. After looking at one post, what would be an obvious next step?

Think of yourself as a guide. Your copy should make them feel welcome and respected, but should also guide them towards the actions you want them to take.

Avoid dead ends, where there is no obvious next step.

Be bold

Put yourself out there. Your website is an opportunity to show the world what a wonderful organisation you are, so don’t hide your talents and achievements.

Tell people what you need. Speak directly to the reader. Make it clear what you want them to do.

There are a lot of charities doing amazing things. If you want to stand out from the crowd, don’t be afraid to push the boat out.

ELEGANT

Structure your pages for easy reading

When visiting websites, we usually read along the top before scanning down the left-hand side of the page. With mobile devices, we might scroll down, keeping an eye out for anything that stands out from the body of the text.

By using headings and sub-headings in a logical, clear way, you can make it easy for visitors to find the information most relevant to them. Not only will you be giving your copy an obvious structure; you’ll also be breaking up lines of text, making it easier to read.

Breaking up text with images, videos, infographics and quotes also help make a page look more elegant, engaging and readable.

Make key words easy to spot

Keywords are not just for search engine optimisation. Think about which words visitors to your site will be looking for and make it easy to find them.

You can use bold to highlight a key word within a paragraph, drawing the reader’s attention. Try not to overuse it, though, or it will lose its impact.

Bullet points are useful for making key points stand out. Try to keep them to around three at a time to deliver rapid summaries that can easily be digested.

Get the basics right

You want to show people that you are a professional organisation that cares deeply about what you do. Getting your spelling and grammar right shows you really do care about what you are talking about and builds the trust of readers.

Use your spell-checkers and make sure someone else checks your copy before it goes online.

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