The whole point of content is to have it read, right? As a web writer, it’s my job to produce quality website copy that reduces bounce rates, so what does it say when reliable research shows that 55% of website visitors hang around for less than 15 seconds before moving on?
But the user clicked through to the page, you say. Surely s/he read the content when they got there? Apparently not, because there’s just so much information available online that the user is overwhelmed with choice. I generally evaluate copy I write against this 7-point checklist to determine whether I’ve missed the boat anywhere:
#1: Is it Current?
A survey by Chartbeat of 2 billion pageviews of more than half a million articles identified that the articles that got the most attention time were those that were the most newsworthy. The theory of “evergreen content” is that it’s timeless, but in fact readers want to see when something was published and use the publishing date as a yardstick to determine its relevance. In the absence of a date, the user goes by how current the subject matter is. Something that mentions Obama, for example, is more likely to be relevant today than a piece about George Bush (either father or son).
#2: Does it Look Clean and Uncluttered?
Busy pages don’t work. Some of the common website copy mistakes that contribute to bounce rates are:
- Solid blocks of text
- Too many images
- Untidy hyperlinks
- Banner ads
The cleaner and less cluttered the page, the more likely readers are to stay long enough to engage with the content.
#3: Are the Headings Self-Explanatory?
There’s been a trend for sometime towards “clever” headlines and subheads, with words such as warning, shocking, secret and other sensationalist terms considered effective. Well, somebody sold us a crock with that idea. Way back in 1997 already, Jakob Nielsen proved that when users read on the web they prefer scannable text, including meaningful subheadings as opposed to clever ones! The shift back to this fundamental principle is gaining ground as readers tire of trying to decipher metaphorically-exciting headings that essentially say nothing.
#4: Is the Length Right?
Long blocks of website copy put readers off. Nielsen’s studies revealed that users were three times more likely to read a brief instead of a full article, and that they preferred to “forage” for the facts rather than read lengthy information to get them. Bounce-proof copy needs to provide a short synopsis at the beginning of the article that tells readers whether the piece contains the answers they want and that balances with the overall length.
#5: Does it Get to the Point Quickly?
Following on from #4, good website copy uses the inverted pyramid style to get to the point quickly. If you have 15 seconds to capture the reader’s attention and you know s/he will read the synopsis or lede first, it makes sense that it needs to contain the point of the piece. Stick to the old idea of “say what you’re going to say, say it and then say what you said.”
#6: Have You Used Images Appropriately?
Research in May 2000 by the Poynter Institute confirmed the findings of Nielsen’s 1997 study and highlighted others, such as the fact that text attracts attention before graphics do. Text accounted for 78% of the first three things users looked at on a webpage, and only 22% for the graphic elements. In many cases, readers only looked at the images on their second or third visit to the page. So if your website copy relies heavily on images to make the point, you could be potentially encouraging readers to “bounce” off to a site that’s easier to read.
#7: Is Interlaced Browsing Supported?
Chances are you never thought of this one before! Well, it turns out that readers like to jump around between pages and your website copy needs to:
- Encourage their return by offering an information-rich experience;
- Make it easy for them to continue reading where they left off, which goes back to the whole “scannability” thing;
- Use plain language and standard terminology so the user isn’t required to switch context or have difficulty remembering what you called things.
Producing content that delivers everything it needs to isn’t for the faint-hearted, but by compiling a checklist of things to watch out for you’ll get as close as possible to doing so. Analyzing your clients’ bounce rates will show whether you’re on the right track.