A subscriber once suggested to me, "Surely, a computer screen isn't that different to a piece of paper is it? So why bother treating them differently? On a PC, we can have black or dark text on a white or light background and we can print out pages, so what's the difference?" Fair questions and reasonably put.
Nevertheless, I went on to explain why I thought that the differences were significant and that they had important implications for writers, publishers and website providers everywhere.
This article explores some key reasons why we should apply different strategies when writing online compared to writing for a publication whose end result appears on paper.
I won't recount all of those differences in detail here now since the full topic is quite extensive, we'll leave that for another article. However, there are several guidelines that I believe can substitute for a detailed explanation. I'd like to share those with you now.
Some Important Differences Between Printed Publications and Electronic Documents
So what's the big deal when writing online compared to writing a paper-based publication? Firstly, here's the problem: reading text on a computer screen is generally considered to be harder for the human eye than reading say from a paper-based publication. Why?
All objects on a computer screen - including text - are made up of tiny dots of light called pixels. Text on a printed page is also composed of tiny dots of ink. Usually, ink dots can appear clearer to the eye compared to pixels.
That simple difference can have huge implications on results - especially when we create important documents designed to persuade and engage readers and visitors - such as sales letters and order forms.
Therefore, consider the following simple guidelines to avoid creating disappointing results or wasting time and money:
- If you're writing a document such as a web page or e-book designed for online reading, as a general rule, aim to halve the amount of content that you would normally write for an equivalent, paper-based publication. Why: when we read online, the greater demands on us may make us more impatient, so by reducing the amount of text we can make reading online easier and more satisfying.
- To help your readers actually engage with and absorb the information you provide online, consider splitting your web-based article, tutorial page or information-rich web pages into multiple pages each made up of "screen-sized chunks".
- In general, for web page articles or "information-heavy" pages that you're urging your web visitors and subscribers to read, aim to keep page short to minimize vertical scrolling that your website visitors may be otherwise forced to do in order to gain access to any remaining or related content.
- Think twice about providing web pages that force your visitors to scroll or swipe horizontally. Why: when using a mouse, horizontal scrolling is especially hard on the eyes, which may annoy and exasperate your visitors. For tablet computer and smart phone users however, horizontal scrolling is a much more natural, intuitive, and easy process. Your visitors could have either or both types of web access devices, therefore consider carefully your approach. If unsure, you can test vertical scrolling verses horizontal scrolling.
Even though we emphasize the benefits of shorter web pages, sometimes, a sales page, may deliver better results if all the information you're providing is contained on a single page. Why: in a sales scenario, you may not want to risk disturbing your readers' focus by splitting your sales message across two or more pages. For other sales pages, you may deliberately seek to spread your sales presentation across, say, 5 or more shorter pages, in order to build up to some kind of climax, before presenting your potential buyer with an order button.
- Key tip: for web sales pages, or pages that are required to perform in some way, unless you already know the best format type to use, test different kinds of web page presentation to determine which one delivers the highest sales or best results. For example, you could create short text pages, longer text pages, a sales page that primarily uses a sound clip, one that is dominated by a video clip sales presentation, or a page that uses a mix of text, pictures, audio and video content.
- To determine which kinds of web pages work best for your website theme, consider using the popular and proven split testing method. How: at any one time, always test only one page against another page sent to the same group to establish a "page winner". Then test your previous "winner" against another page with still different options in the same way. You may run a split test several times or until you find the top two or three best performing pages. Split testing is not the most interesting or engaging of activities, yet can help minimize your losses and boost your profits.
- However, none of these suggestions are hard and fast rules "set in stone." You can simply make your own judgment as you put your web or e-book publication together. For example, some folks consider that for an article-type "page" that uses up to about four normal screen-heights of content is an acceptable web page length, when you seek to balance the temporary loss of focus that the reader experiences when changing from one page to another verses page length.
- Where appropriate, include "Continue..." or "Read more ..." or "Forward..." and "Back..." signpost links on a page.
- Avoid using prompts such as "Click here ..." on your web pages whenever possible. Why: "Click here" is (1) vague, (2) unfriendly in terms of website usability and accessibility and (3) since links can gain search engine benefits, if you insert key words relating to the article topic in your links, your web page may benefit with a higher ranking or listing. For example, if your web page article is about cooking Mexican food, you could use the following link phrase, "Read more about cooking fine Mexican fajitas >>".
- If you can't easily avoid using "Click here ..." in your link text, do make sure that your reason for doing so is made absolutely clear. For example, on this website, previously, we used an add-on that managed subscriber requests to unsubscribe for us automatically. Unfortunately, the default link text used the text "Click here to unsubscribe". (We could have opted to modify the original code to include a better statement of purpose and avoid the use of "Click here ..."). Nevertheless, users did immediately know what the effect of the action was.
- In web pages or articles containing content that spans across multiple pages, whenever possible, include a table of contents that provides quick links to all pages that make up the article or series of related pages.
- Experiment with different page lengths. Ask your readers and web visitors to consider the kind of page lengths they prefer. How: use web polls or surveys - functionality that usually comes built in as standard with websites designed and created by InternetTIPS.com.