Web Copy – How Much is Enough?
September 1, 2006 • 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 in 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 about…
I’ve written several articles on what to write on your website in order to make it helpful. 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.
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 balance.
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 more, 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.