Ten tips for Web communication

Web-based communication is no longer a new phenomenon. Companies large and small, in locales from Hong Kong to Hattiesburg, use the Web to communicate with customers, business collaborators and employees.

In the headlong rush to e-publish, it is important to keep some simple guidelines in mind, with an eye toward maximizing the impact of your mission-critical messaging. After all, the most critical statement in the world will have little impact if it goes unread.

Here are ten simple rules to keep in mind when publishing on the Internet.

  1. Always remember WIFM-"What's in it for me?" This is only possible if you put yourself in the position of your reader. What is important to you may not be equally important to your audience. Example: If your company will soon celebrate its 20th year of operation, don't assume your customers care. They are focused on WIFM. It might make more sense to celebrate your milestone internally while continuing to focus on delivering the superior products and services, helping ensure 20 more years of business success.

  2. Keep it simple. Decide ahead of time what you want to communicate and maintain laser focus on that topic. You may be tempted to elaborate, but readership studies indicate readers will rarely scroll down more than a half-screen to finish a story. Be brief and to the point. Example: You may be tempted to detail the trials and tribulations that went into the launch of a new product. But the added detail may lose readers. Consider publishing the new product's unique selling proposition, then linking to a separate story on the effort behind the product.

  3. White space is your friend. Nothing puts off readers more than densely packed text. Try to break longer paragraphs into shorter ones, with double-returns between paragraphs.

  4. Consider older readers when selecting font size. The average U.S. reader is aging, and as that happens, the average visual acuity suffers. Try to use a serif type face for body copy, and don't go smaller than 10 point size.

  5. Consider using subheads as road signs to guide people through the story. Most people like to scan subheads to get the gist of the story, and many will not read the story without them. Use a bold font to set off the subheads.

  6. People respond to photos of other people. Consider using people pics as a fast, easy way to boost readership. I have found that the best results come from showing the low-profile people behind the scenes, rather than the CEO or other senior executive who is already well-known.

  7. Try to use active voice in your writing, instead of passive. Active voice makes messages more dynamic and engaging. Instead of: "Through an increase in sales we will realize a boost in the bottom line," consider: "We will increase sales, and as a result we will boost the bottom line."

  8. Try to avoid the temptation of offering too many links in the body of your story. It is best offer no more than six links in a story, and most readers prefer to access the links at the bottom, where they do not interfere with story flow.

  9. Try to "design" your story so as to overcome a series of objections by your readers. Those objections are, "I am not interested," "I don't have time" and "Your story is too long." The headline and lead graphic of the story are used to overcome the first objection. The first two paragraphs should overcome the second objection. Subheads overcome the final objection.

  10. Have fun! If you are enthusiastic about your story, it will come through in your writing. And the converse is also true. Try to make sure the right people are writing the right story.

Gary Fackler is a freelance writer/editor who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has more than 20 years of experience in high-tech, life sciences and consumer packaged goods. He can be reached at garyfackler@comcast.net

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