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10 ways to write scannable web copy

People don’t so much read on the web – they scan. There’s lots of research and statistics around scannable web copy to back this up. It’s overly simplified but let’s take it as read (so to speak) and get to it: how do you write scannable web copy?

1. Write powerful headlines

Make sure your headlines are:

  • Short
  • Informative – give a summary of the whole article
  • Structured with the important keyword at the start
  • Clear and easy to understand even out of context
  • Honest – don’t promise something you can’t or don’t deliver

2. Use subheads

Create scannable web copy by breaking up the copy with subheads that mean something and guide the eye, giving an idea of the progression of the content.

3. Use bullets and lists:

  1. Everyone uses bullets and lists
  2. They do so for a good reason
  3. People like lists
  4. You don’t even need a proper list
  5. You can just put sentences into a list form
  6. And it makes for scannable web copy
  7. You see what I did there? 🙂

4. Keep paragraphs short
Keep paragraphs short because it’s easier on the eye. And the brain. For scannable web copy, stick to one idea per paragraph.

5. Highlight important words
Don’t be shy about using bold and italics to highlight important words. That way, if they scan through your copy, at least they’ll pick out the important bits – the bits you want them to see. But don’t use underlines: people will expect that to be a link.

6. Get to the point

Create a logical structure for your content – put the important information first using the ‘pyramid‘ style.

7. Use text boxes

Put material such as testimonials, quotes or a summary of benefits into text boxes so that they really stand out.

8. Use design elements

If there’s something you really want to emphasise, you could turn it into a design element – big, bold, brash and colourful.

9. Use short, familiar words
This is good writing advice whatever you’re writing, online or off. But if you’re using lots of long and complex words, your copy starts to look dull. People will start to scan even faster, and perhaps give up all together. Short, everyday words are ideal for scannable web copy.

10. Use hypertext
Links are your friend on the internet. You can break up longer and more in-depth content by using hyperlinks. For example, you could put background information onto a secondary page. You can use the hypertext as a way of showing the reader, once they’ve finished your article, where they should go next.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jakk Ogden at his Technology Blog March 8, 2010, 10:43 pm

    Why is that everytime I am about to close my web browser I come across another page I want to read! Argh! Damn this web pages adictiveness lol.

    “Links are your friend on the internet. You can break up longer and more in-depth content by using hyperlinks. For example, you could put background information onto a secondary page. You can use the hypertext as a way of showing the reader, once they’ve finished your article, where they should go next”

    Completely true. Not just that, but it increases the number of page views and also the time on site :D.

  • variable-speed-drives October 16, 2012, 11:25 am

    this looks reasonable. hope it helps on our website.