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Why your website content writers may not be the right choice today

February 28, 2017 by Maria Ford

Example of “traditional” website content: linear and lengthy.

Websites have undergone an evolution in the past few years. Website users have always had short attention spans and task-oriented reading habits. Now, new technology, Apple’s design leadership, Google’s search results, and social media’s picture+post format have all changed users’ expectations and designers’ approaches to websites.

Gone are the days of the 500-word web page. Well, OK, those types of web pages do still exist in many industries and on many web sites. And they still have a lot of value for search engine optimization. But it’s more common today that website content – particularly the top-level content that visitors interact with first and most often – is written in short “chunks”, each designed to facilitate a specific interaction.

Interaction versus reading

An “interaction” is active and physical. A website with an interaction design has been created for USING, not merely for reading.

  • Reading is relatively passive. It requires a mental investment in attention and understanding. It may not lead to any particular result aside from learning something new.
  • Using is proactive and action-oriented. Its goal is to help an individual complete a task (find information, answer a question, move through a process, download something, buy something, make a decision, register for something, etc.).

Writing for a website that is designed for interaction requires a completely different skill set than writing for a website of “traditional” content.

Website content transformation

A “wireframe” concept for interaction-based content and design of the same web page.

We love to write for interaction-designed websites – but we’ve learned that it’s a big challenge for organizations who are used to having internal subject-matter experts (SMEs) write web content.

For older, content-rich websites that are being updated with interaction-based designs, traditional content providers face a number of challenges, including:

  1. Detaching from their content. Interaction-based writing is focused 100% on the user’s interests and goals – and that often means eliminating a great deal of existing content that SMEs are very attached to. Interaction writing is painful if the writer is attached to his or her own agenda and existing content.
  2. Thinking objectively. Because they are inside the organization, it’s difficult for internal SMEs to objectify their content, think like the site’s users, and focus on the tasks that website users need to complete.
  3. Thinking in multiple dimensions. Website content is not linear (although it is often unfortunately written that way). Web users don’t read websites like they read, say, an essay. And, a web user may enter the content anywhere. Interaction design adds yet another dimension (or two) by placing content in boxes and chunks that help the eye move around the page until it finds what it needs. The design may also expand and contract based on user choices, and content must be written for these changing scenarios
  4. Final design of the same web page – short, punchy content with an action-oriented focus.

    Writing concisely. One of the differences between a professional writer and someone who can write is that a professional writer knows that “writing” is 30% actual content generation and 70% editing. For interaction writing that ratio is even more extreme, as the content must be fit into specific blocks, chunks, buttons, and spaces on a page. Yes, folks, writing less takes MORE time.

  5. Being consistent. Consistency in tone, style, punctuation, capitalization, and so on matters more than ever to interaction writing. That’s because the content is more visual, is designed to be acted upon, and because there is less of it. So, it’s easy to see errors and easy to become confused by even minor inconsistencies.
  6. Understanding the tools. Interaction writers work closely with designers and we use tools such as information architectures, content maps, wireframes, style guides, and templates. Through years of experience, we’ve acquired the skills and processes to use these tools seamlessly. But for a hobbyist or subject matter expert who has been seconded into producing website content, it’s a steep learning curve for what’s likely to be a one-time activity – and their time may be better spent elsewhere.

How we help

There are three main ways that we assist organizations to develop interaction-based website content:

  1. We write it. We can take care of the entire process, from interviewing SMEs to drafting new or transforming existing content, and working with the designer and developer to ensure copy fit and closure.
  2. We transform it. We often take existing content developed by SMEs and transform it into the interaction design.
  3. We train others. We provide internal writing teams and SMEs with training in how to write effectively for the web and how to transform content for interaction design.

As I noted earlier, the process and the tools involved are second-nature to us. That means we can facilitate and speed up the often difficult process of getting website content developed and/or transformed. We can even take the task completely off your plate!

Talk to us about your next website project.

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