Copywriting as a Part of Web Development

A part of web development is copywriting. Excellent copy means it has to be appealing to both readers and to search engines. This combination will help websites to rank highly. A problem occurs when there are space constraints to a site, page layout requirements or other issues.

Because appealing to both readers and search engines is so important, you don’t want to sacrifice one for the other. Adding a big block of copy to the middle of a page may not be the best answer, however, if a page needs content, adding a couple of sentences to the bottom of each section is a good option. Your copy will still be readable and the additional content will appeal to the search engines.

There are some things to remember when writing content for a website.

  • Web users are active. One click and they have left your site. If they don’t see a reason to stay, they won’t. There is a 10 – 15 second window available to capture a visitor’s attention.
  • The longer the text is, the less likely they are to read it. With long text, they will skim it, if they bother to read it at all.
  • Web users don’t believe in hype. If you want a web user to believe you and to believe in you, you must back up your claims.

Four questions must be answered on each page:

  • What am I doing here?
  • How do I do it?
  • What’s in it for me?
  • Where can I go, next?

If your design and navigation isn’t obvious, then you need to explain it in the copy. Most visitors will not take the time to figure this information out. If a first time visitor cannot find their way around your site, they will likely never come back.

Unless your visitors are expecting to read something on your page, don’t expect that they will read more than one or two lines of copy.

Understanding your copy is as important as length. Don’t make the copy so complicated that it is difficult to comprehend or make it so the customer will have to think about it because they won’t.

What this means is you want to convey one key idea in just one or two lines. Don’t try to add a third line because if you say too much, then even the first idea won’t penetrate. If your site needs more content, break it down into sections that are one or two paragraphs each. Say what you want to say in the first sentence and then expand the thought into the paragraph. Use meaningful headers. Most people will only scan the headers to the paragraphs and not even bother with the copy on the page, unless it is something that appeal to them. It is better to write only one or two lines with links to another page with the longer copy.

Even when users are expecting to find text heavy content, don’t expect they will take the time to read all of it. Longer copy doesn’t have to be as abrupt as shorter text, but it needs to be as easy to read.

Make your copy clear, but not boring. Lively writing with an unassuming voice is best. Boring writing will turn your reader off and nothing you say at that point will make it through.

Web Development and Reverse Engineering

Web developers are always trying to create attractive and functional websites. If you are using a content management system you need no special knowledge of web technologies to create basic pages. But sooner or later you need to modify layout or some part of the website for which there are no settings in the user interface. Modifying code means knowing basics of HTML, CSS, JavaScipt, PHP and other languages used for websites. If you are new to this world you will need some tutorials and introductory texts to learn basics of web technologies.

However, there is another way of learning with possibility to experiment and test various modifications of the code or layout. It is called reverse engineering and means examining code of an existing page. Every web browser has a function to display the source code of displayed page. By examining it you can see what elements are needed to construct the web page. This is a great way to learn HTML and CSS language. Of course, examining and understanding how it works is one thing, creating your own project is another. The easiest way to start writing code is to make small modifications on your website. For this purpose you need a development installation on your home server, because experimenting with a live website is not a good idea. Depending on the system used for your site you will have to find files which contain the code for the page under examination. There is no general rule, but the main core of the page layout is probably in some template file.

This approach of examining the source code is also useful when you find a page with some fancy design or cool menu. To understand how it is done you need to find appropriate part of the code. Firefox, for example, has a nice feature to display only the source code of a small part of the website. You simply select the page elements you are interested in, click the right mouse button to display a menu and select View Selection Source. Once you find source lines responsible for the wanted page element, you can study them and try to implement something similar on your website. This doesn’t mean that you can copy the code directly, you will have to modify it to be compatible with your existing website. But the basic principle is that you examine existing code and experiment with small modifications. If you combine this approach with web resources explaining theoretical background of web technologies, you will be able to quickly understand and learn new languages and technologies.

Web Development Pet Peeve: This Site Best Viewed By …

It only takes a little looking around the web (even among professional web developers) to find the words “This site best viewed by…” emblazoned somewhere for all to see (as if it were something to be proud of.) A quick Google search shows several hundred million results. This particularly abhorrent practice is a major pet peeve of mine. It means that someone was too lazy to do their job properly and probably got paid for it anyway. That’s just wrong.

There’s also the implication that any site visitor not using the specific browser, browser version, or screen resolution listed as “acceptable” by this particular wannabe webmaster (or better yet, “webfailure”) just deserves whatever garbage comes out on their screens. You’d think that no one else had ever heard the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes.

I keep trying to imagine what day to day life would be like if this practice were adopted by any other industry. Can you imagine a television station that advertised the best brand of television on which to watch their broadcast and was unconcerned by the fact that their signal was blurry or unwatchable on any other brand? Can you imagine a sign outside your local grocery store that said, “This parking lot best used by Toyota Camrys, 1995 or later, 2-door, not 4-door.” Tell me you wouldn’t want to stick some massive, old RV across 14 of those parking spaces and dare anyone to say a word.

People, the time has come to end this practice once and for all! There have been efforts and all-out campaigns to do this before, but they’ve had very little success. I have a plan that I think could be pretty effective. I call it my “Many Happy Returns Plan.” It goes like this:

  • Everyone starts contacting the real owners of these sites and telling them to get their money back. It’s clear that the person they paid to do this was either too incompetent to do it properly or too lazy to finish the job. They should get their money back to pay someone else who knows what the heck they’re doing. It’s only fair. I think that a few well-publicized lawsuits would end this particular trend in laziness.

It really comes down to this, the only time that you should see the words “This site best viewed by…” on a website is if they’re followed by the words “…anyone in any browser they prefer.” If you don’t know how to do this, ask, search the web, learn, find out. Don’t just stick some piece of garbage site up and charge a client for it. In the immortal words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, “Make it so.”

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