Web CopyHow Much is Enough?

By: Glenn Murray

Web Copy – How Much is Enough?

By Glenn Murray *

These days, there’s widespread acceptance that
a website is an integral part of the marketing plan
of any business. Likewise, it’s commonly accepted
that web copy is a vital component of any website. But
how much web copy is enough?

The pure volume of information available on the Internet
is daunting – often counterproductive. There are
approximately 550 billion documents on the web, and
every day another 7 million are added. According to
an A.T. Kearney, Network Publishing study (April 2001),
workers take so long trying to find information that
it costs organizations $750 billion annually!

Yet people continue to use it. Information gathering
is the most common use of the Internet (American Express
survey, 2000). And it seems work-related searches are
amongst the most common, with 48% of people using the
Internet to find work-related information, as opposed
to 7% who use magazines (Lyra Research, 2001).

Interestingly, however, the average person visits
no more than 19 websites in the entire month
order to avoid information overload (Nielsen NetRatings
in Jan 2001).

So how do you ensure your site is one of those 19?
How do you make your content helpful without making
it overwhelming?
That’s what this article is

I’ve written several articles on what to
write on your website in order to make it helpful. (See
Your Customer – Write About Benefits
, Writing
Benefit-Driven Web Copy
, and Wording
Up Your Website
.) But that’s only half the
battle… Businesses also need to know how much
to write. Here are 5 quick rules of thumb to help you
decide how much is enough.

1) Know your audience (Reader or Search Engine?)

Think about whether you’re targeting human readers
(potential customers) or search engines. This must always
be one of your very first questions, as the answer will
determine your approach to content.

In general, human readers think less is more. Search
engines, on the other hand, think more is more (well,
more or less…). In many ways, it comes down to
a question of quality versus quantity. Human readers
are interested in quality, whereas search engines are
interested quantity. Human readers want you to answer
their questions and make it clear how you can benefit
them. And they don’t want to wade through volumes
of text. Search engines want a high word count, full
of relevant keywords, and short on diagrams. (See Writing
SEO Copy
for more information on writing for search
engines. See Search
Engine Optimization Unmasked for CEOs
for an introductory
article on search engine optimization.)

You need to think carefully about your audience. In
most cases, it’ll be a trade-off. A high search
engine ranking is important (or at least beneficial)
to most businesses, so a happy medium is required. The
following tips will go some way toward providing this

2) Make it concise

Say everything you need to say, but always ask, “Can
I say it with fewer words?” The literary world
may be impressed by complex writing, but visitors aren’t.
Keep it simple, and keep it brief. Your home page shouldn’t
be more than 1 screen long. In other words, visitors
shouldn’t have to scroll. Subsequent pages can
be longer, but try to keep them to a maximum of about
300-400 words each (approximately 1 scroll). A lot of
people will tell you that you also need 300-400 words
or more on your home page for a good search engine ranking.
You don’t. If you focus on the right keywords and
generate a lot of links to your site, you can achieve
a high ranking without losing your readers’ interest
by padding

TIP: For most businesses, a good rule of thumb is to
make it conversational. The old school oppose conversational
copy; don’t listen to them. Unless you’re
writing for an old-school audience, feel free to write
as people talk.

3) One subject per page

On this, both readers and search engines agree. Don’t
try and squeeze too much information onto a single page.
For example, instead of trying to detail all of your
products on a single Products page, use the page to
introduce and summarize your product suite, then link
to a separate page per product. This way, your content
will be easier to write, your readers won’t be
overwhelmed, and you’ll be able to focus on fewer
keywords (so the search engines will get a clearer picture
of what you do).

4) Make it scannable

According to a 1998 Sun Microsystems study, reading
from a monitor is 25% slower than reading from paper.
As a result, 79% of users scan read when online. So
make sure you accommodate scanning. Use headings and
sub-headings. Highlight important words and sections.
Use bulleted lists and numbered lists. Use tables. Use
statistics. Use meaningful indenting. Use short sentences.
Most importantly, be consistent in your usage. Oh…
and follow rules 2 and 3 above.

5) Use a simple menu structure

Try to keep your high-level menu (Home, About Us, Contacts,
Products, Services, etc.) to a maximum of about 10 items
(5-8 is ideal). If you have too many options, your site
will seem unstructured and your visitors won’t
know where to start. In order for a visitor to want
to come back to your site, they need to feel comfortable
when they’re there. They need to know what to expect.
If they can’t identify any logic in your menu structure,
they will always feel lost. What’s moreComputer Technology Articles, this lack
of structure will reflect badly on your business.

The Internet can be an incredibly cost-effective form
of promotion because the cost per word to publish is
so low. Don’t be fooled into thinking more is more
just because it costs less. Audiences – even search
engines – don’t want everything; they just
want enough.

Happy writing!


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