Treat your web visitors like wild animals
Your website visitors behave like wild animals (source: Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox).
They’re hunting for information or a product to buy – just like a hungry panther hunts for his next meal.
When a panther sniffs a scent trail he quickly decides: will the scent trail lead to a good meal? And will it be an easy catch?
Your web visitors consider the same two things: Does your website offer what they’re looking for? And can they find it easily?
A hungry panther doesn’t like wasting time to catch a meal. And your web visitors don’t want to browse around your website for several long minutes to find the product they’re after. They want to find it quickly.
Just like the panther makes a fast decision whether to follow a scent trail or not, your web visitor decides quickly whether your site is useful or not. So if your site looks complicated with a lot of options to choose from, they click away to check out another website.
Web visitors quickly glance at your web page before guessing whether they’re in the right place or not. They don’t need to know for sure. They just want to make a quick decision.
If your web visitors only glance at your website, how do you get your message across?
Put your most important information first
Writing for the web is completely different from writing an essay or a paper.
An essay might go like this: First, explain what you’re going to discuss. Then, present an overview of the literature. Next, discuss; and finally draw your conclusion. The most important point you make is in the conclusion – at the end of your essay!
On web pages you have to do the opposite: your most important points always come first.
An example: you’re looking for a new red three-seater sofa. When you arrive at a website you want to see it sells sofas. And secondly, you want a search box so you know you can quickly find out what the red three-seater sofas are like.
Or say you’re looking for a copywriter for your website. Maybe you’re looking for someone local, so you need to see a copywriter is based in Manchester which is nearby. Or maybe your copywriter needs to understand medical terminology, so you like to see a headline like copywriting for the medical industry.
Information that’s most important to your web visitors is often a simple statement of what you do. Once they understand what you do, they might want to know some important details. And then – maybe they’d like to know some background information.
Journalists call this way of writing the inverted pyramid. In newspaper articles the most newsworthy information comes first before details and background information. Even if you only read the first paragraph of a newspaper story you still understand the big picture.
It’s the same on your website. Your customers want to know the big picture first. Basically: What do you do? Or what can you do for them?
Don’t try to be clever or creative
On the web it’s rare that a reader hangs on to every word you write. He doesn’t have time. He’s in a hurry because he could check out several other scent trails – websites – instead of wasting time trying to figure out what you do.
Simple statements often work best.
[W]hen I look at a Web page it should be self-evident. Obvious. Self-explanatory. ~ Steve Krug.
Clever phrasing requires people to think. And asking people to think, doesn’t work on the web because web visitors are hunting – they don’t have time to think. So keep your web copy as simple as possible.
Write as if you’re writing for a 12-year old because that makes your copy easy-to-follow. And be careful with jokes unless you’re absolutely sure your target audience will get them.