People are naturally unsettled by differences and inconsistencies. When creating website content it’s important to provide a consistent and positive experience for your visitors. This sets a tone of reliability, which naturally makes visitors want to trust you. A set of website writing guidelines is an excellent tool for maintaining this consistency across your site.
When I say structural I’m talking about the organization of the web page, which includes HTML. The good news is that you don’t need to know how to write or even read HTML. What you do need to be aware of is when you use each of the HTML elements.
Page & Blog Post Titles
These should almost always be H1 tags. H1 tags are the largest heading size and search engines consider them to indicate important text. It is also important for titles to be capitalized the same way every time. If you decide to only capitalize the first word, that’s great, but you have to be consistent.
As your page of text grows, breaking up that text with section headings can increase readability. General recommendations are to have two sizes of section heading and if you need anything else, use bolded text. You can use either H1 & H2 or H2 & H3. Either combination works well for search engines.
Section titles should use the larger of the two sizes and subsections the smaller. Subsections always occur within sections. This nested structure is very understandable for both people and search engines.
Have you ever read a book and encountered a paragraph that takes up half the page? It’s very easy to lose your place within the paragraph and the same is true of online reading. Paragraphs should be kept to 5 lines of text or less. Occasionally you may end up with a few words on the 6th line, but if you are typing along and see 10 lines of text with no breaks, something needs to be done.
Bold & Italic Text
Should you use bold & italic? The answer is when appropriate and sparingly. Changes in font interrupt reading, and you don’t want to interrupt someone every two sentences. Bold is intended for a title when using a heading tag wouldn’t be appropriate. Bold can also be considered shouting when used in the middle of a paragraph. Italics is designed to add emphasis to words.
Word Use Guidelines
Now that we’ve discussed formatting your pages, it’s time to discuss the actual written words on your website. The important part in establishing these guidelines is that you use them consistently throughout your website.
On the internet there has become a standard minimum of 300 words for most internal pages of a website. The exception is image heavy pages like portfolios. There is an assumption by search engines that if you have anything interesting and relevant to say that it takes 300 words or more to say it. This is especially true of blog articles. Now this is not an excuse to go padding your articles with fluff. It is saying that if you are writing a blog, you should have something meaningful to say.
English vs English
American english and British english have a few spelling differences as well as a number of slang differences. For example, in England a “boot” may refer to the truck of a car, whereas in America it’s just “trunk”. If you are writing for a British audience you also need to be aware that many spell checkers use American english as the default, so “color” will show up as correctly spelled even though you meant to use “colour”.
Grammar can be one of the big elements that sets your website apart. There are a lot of sites out there that have poor grammar and are awkward to read. Just take a look at these two examples:
We believe that each project work is different and require different strategy and different effort to be executed. We offer customized solution to all our customer after doing a detailed analysis of the project.
We believe every client and project are unique and require a tailored execution strategy. After a detailed analysis of your project, we will create a customized solution for you.
Which of those examples would you rather read? Taking the extra time to proof read your work or hiring a copywriter can mean the difference between a visitor leaving or staying engaged.
Now, websites are not usually designed to be the next great novel, so some liberties from strict grammar are allowed. An example is numbers. Proper grammar dictates that the number 2 be written out as two. However it is commonly written as 2 for faster reading.
If you are a native english speaker, a common trick for helping you with grammar is to read your writing aloud. Frequently, problems with your writing will become clear when you hear them instead of just reading them. If you are more comfortable with speaking than writing, then using software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking or a service such as SpeakWrite can make things easier.
Extra Design Elements
A website is composed not only of written words but also of pictures and videos. Adding pictures can create visual appeal, but wildly varying sizes and locations can be unsettling. Consider placing images and videos in similar locations at similar sizes across your web pages. Your readers will appreciate the predictability.
Using Your Writing Guidelines
If you have a website or blog with multiple authors (or the potential for multiple authors), then you need to document your writing guidelines and provide them to every author. If you have a small site written by only one individual, then you can keep the guidelines more informal. However, if you are going to work with a web designer / developer, they will need to be aware of the writing guidelines so that they can code appropriately.