3 Must-Have Elements to Make Your Web Copy Visually AppealingGuest_Blogger | Dec 08, 2011
Like it or not, there is a subtle, psychological element to the way we read things. Whether you’re reading something on a web site (such as this blog post) or reading from a book, your brain has certain patterns it’s looking for. Those patterns affect how closely you’ll read something, how quickly you’ll navigate away or put a book down, and how much you’ll enjoy the reading.
In the case of web copy, there are certain visual aspects you need to attend to if you wish to keep readers interested.
Visual appeal can’t cancel out poor writing
Now, before we go any further, let’s make something clear: using visual techniques to make your web copy more appealing doesn’t do much good if your copy is poorly written. Poor spelling and grammar, weak language, or improper structure can’t be cancelled out with visual tricks.
Instead, think of these visual elements as ways to enhance or complement your high-quality copy. Whether you’re a contractor creating copy for a client, a client evaluating a potential vendor’s portfolio, or even just a business owner creating your own website, look for these things as indications of visually-appealing copy.
Let’s take a look, then, at these elements:
1. Short sentence length
While long, complex sentences may be ideal for academic writing, they translate poorly to the web. Short, concise sentences are almost always better than long ones. The trick here is to convey as much meaning and information as you can in fewer words.
Here are some ways you can shorten sentences without losing meaning:
- Expand your vocabulary. Don’t look for obscure words, but don’t be afraid to use words that are less common. Generally speaking, those word choices are more specific and therefore contain more meaning.
- Drop compound sentences whenever possible. If you have two independent phrases connected by a conjunction, drop the conjunction and just make it a single sentence.
- Use pronouns and contractions freely but clearly. Pronouns and contractions are two of your best friends for writing concise sentences. Just make sure that there’s no ambiguity about their meaning in context.
2. Short paragraphs
Here’s one of the areas that good web writing diverges from the normal rules of composition. Traditionally, you think of a paragraph as consisting of:
- A topic sentence
- Two or three supporting sentences or examples
- Optionally, a concluding sentence
Web copy simply looks better, however, when paragraphs are two or three sentences in length. What that means from the practical perspective is that you’re going to break your traditional paragraphs into two or even three smaller paragraphs.
In some cases, you’ll even set a single topic sentence apart from the rest of the paragraph on its own.
3. Eye-catching text techniques
Large blocks of text are typically ignored on the web. There is too much other visual noise – pictures, hyperlinks, and even the rest of the programs running on the reader’s computer or device – that can draw the eye away from the text. To combat this, you need to make good use of eye-catching text techniques. Things that draw the eye include:
- Bulleted or numbered lists
- Bolded, italicized, or underlined words and phrases
- Section headers
Not all of these techniques are appropriate for every type of web copy, of course. A news article will rarely use lists, for example. You also need to be careful about underlining, as your reader will think anything underlined is a link and try to follow it.
It’s not all about the copy
As much as copywriters like to think that it’s all about good writing, there is only so much your copy can do on its own. For example, you might have one of the most convincing, compelling sales pages on your site and get zero response. It could be that you have a noisy banner that drives people to close the window, or that you have too many outbound links drawing readers away.
Images are another area that can detract from the visual appeal of web copy. Disturbing images (including offensive or intentionally provocative) will cause readers to shut your page down. Visually appealing images that are hyperlinked will have readers clicking away from your page.
When a reader opens a web page, her eyes naturally gravitate to the first image she sees. If there are multiple images, it will usually be the second-highest image on the left hand side of the page. While you need to pay attention to all of your images, you need to make sure that one isn’t going to send readers elsewhere.
Fitting web copy into the bigger picture
If you’re a contractor who’s doing copywriting work for a client, there’s only so much you can do. You can compose your copy to make it visually appealing, but if your client puts that copy as white text in a tiny font on a black background, readers are going to leave.
Likewise, if you’re a website owner or manager and you’ve hired someone to create copy for your site, you need to make sure they’re following these rules and that the copy looks good on the page.
Ultimately, making web copy look good becomes as much art as it is science. When combined with powerful writing, that visual appeal will give your copy the extra edge it needs to truly engage your reader and elicit a response.
About the Author:
Bob Younce is the owner of Composing Business, a freelance copywriting firm currently ranked in the Top 50 writing providers on Elance. Composing Business is dedicated to helping other small businesses get ahead with high-quality, compelling copy. Contact Bob on Elance or visit his website at www.composingbusiness.com.