Writing for the Web is a lot like writing billboards.
Think about it: when you’re driving at highway speeds and you see billboards, you can actually only read the ones that are short and sweet.
There’s a reason: the rule of thumb for successful billboard headlines is about five words. Five, max. And the rule for clutter is none. You’ll know it immediately when there’s a billboard created by people who didn’t know the rules. You’ll catch some piece of it, but never all of it, and you’ll already be half a mile down the road when you decide to give up.
Billboards like that are a complete waste of money since no one can read an entire paragraph – let alone a sentence – going at 65 miles per hour.
Guess what – the Web is exactly the same. We’re all learning to click through Web sites faster and faster. The briefer the message, the more likely we are to get it. The best Google ads are the shortest. The best Web sites are the easiest to read.
The rules of the road.
This online world is whole new way to communicate. Interestingly, the rules of the road apply more than any others. People are speeding by to get where they want to go. They don’t want to be distracted. And they especially don’t want to be confused. If your Web site slows them down, your visitors will be gone in the click of a mouse.
Here’s the key: focus on the essential message you’re trying to communicate – the core message – then say it in as few words as possible. Play with the order of the words – you’ll be amazed at the possibilities re-ordering a sentence will open up. The great concepts didn’t just happen. The key thoughts were edited, honed and crafted until the fewest words possible said it all. Then compelling ways were created to deliver those words.
Look where you want to go.
All new motorcycle riders are taught: ”look where you want to go.” That may sound absurdly obvious, but it’s a matter of life of death on a two-wheeled transport. If you’re riding around a curve and you become fixated by oncoming traffic instead of looking at the spot ahead where you want to get to, you’ll involuntarily start heading toward that traffic. It’s quite simple, and quite dangerous: our focus affects our steering on a motorcycle. Look at what you want to avoid instead of where you want to go and you’ll be heading for disaster in no time.
It’s the very same when we’re surfing the Web. The way to keep visitors on course and on your site is by providing relevant, meaningful content that’s easy to read and understand. Don’t distract them with eye-candy or pointless side-trips. If you know where you want your visitors to end up, put them on that road and keep them on that road.