Print vs Online copy

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Copy written for print media is not appropriate for online consumption.

Having worked in both communications and web based roles I can honestly say that this is an issue that comes up almost daily.

Marketing executives constantly throw copy from magazine articles, brochures and advertising to web executives to ‘just upload.’ Unfortunately, this phenomenon has a tendency to occur less and an hour before deadline – rendering any chance of editing or alternative suggestions impossible.

Common arguments I hear for not editing content for the web include:

•    ‘It’s academic content – sentences are supposed to be that long.’
•    ‘If you edit it, you’ll change the meaning.’
•    ‘We don’t have time, it needs to be up ASAP.’

…and my personal favourite, ‘It’s already been approved.’

The truth is, it just doesn’t work. Sure, you can throw it online and run with it. But do so with the understanding that you are producing a sub-standard experience for your users.

As web executives we all know that sometimes you just have to grin and bare it. But this shouldn’t be a regular occurrence.

The behavioural differences that occur between reading on screen and on paper are significant.

In my experience, once you sit down with someone and explain the fundamental reasons why, they understand.

I use the following three points to demonstrate the difference to clients:

70% of users scan content

People do not read word for word.

Usability testing done by the Nielsen Normal group, across user demographics, has shown that people actually only ready about 28% of content on a page. This means you have very little time to make your point.

If you halve the amount of words you use, you can double how much the user absorbs.

Web users are ruthless

When people come to your site, it is usually for a reason. They want to get in, get the information and get out. When writing web content, it is therefore essential that you make your point up in your first paragraph.

Use the inverted pyramid style by summarising first. This allows your reader to decide if this is the information they are looking for.

Push vs Pull

Print, is a push medium. You are pursuing people (via a marketing campaign) and actively trying to persuade people to invest in your product.

A website is a pull medium. People come of their own free will – it is up to us to keep them there. Draw them in with your content and they will return. Confuse them with hard to find, convoluted information and they will leave frustrated.

Read some great research reports on this topic.

They key to solving this, seemingly, eternal problem is educating people.

Make sure you are involved in approval processes for content and that your changes are explained. Educating people about what you need will make your job, and your website,  a better experience.

Next month: Web writing tips – How to get the most out of your content.

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