Updated: Nov 9
Seven oh-so-simple website copy formatting tips to make your website easier to read, more user-friendly, and ready to convert.
Can bullet points help convert visitors into customers? Can writing less mean you sell more? Is shorter really sweeter?
Yes, yes and yes.
Writing for the web is a specific skill. And sometimes it seems to go against what you'd expect.
But master it and your website will become a lean, clean, sales machine.
Psst... people aren't paying attention
The attention span of someone looking at your website is just seconds. They come, they scan. And they leave very quickly if they don't find what they need.
Your aim is to make it as easy as possible for them to find the information they need.
If you don't, they'll leave. And so will your chance of turning their interest into action...buying your stuff, booking your services or donating to your cause.
7 website copy formatting tips to increase engagement
Here are my seven tips to improve your website performance without having to think about anything vaguely technical.
1. Bulleted lists
Leave the blocks to lego. Break up blocky text to make your web page easier to scan and read.
Don't bank on people reading through your text to find your key selling points or product features. Make them stand out with a bulleted list.
But don't be tempted to just bullet point everything. Bulleted lists are only effective if they are:
to the point
If your bullet points need punctuation, they're probably too long to be in a bulleted list!
2. Plain English
People's ability to understand and process information goes down when they're reading online.
And down even further when reading on mobile, which accounts for about 50% of web traffic.
So writing in plain English that's easy to understand is incredibly important.
Don't be tempted to use fancy pants big words to impress people. It'll make your website harder to use and send visitors searching somewhere else.
Subheadings are the signposts that guide people through your text.
They jump out of the page and say 'Hello, you're in the right place. This way to what you're looking for'.
If you don't use these signposts, your visitors will quickly get lost and leave your site.
Break up your pages with subheaders that accurately describe the content of the next few paragraphs.
The best subheaders are:
short (aim for five words or fewer)
easy to read (no big words or silly fonts)
have the keywords at the start
Why keywords at the start? Because humans scan web copy in an 'F' pattern (see below), checking out the headline first and then looking at the start of each subheader to orientate themselves.
So a good example is:
Subheaders and how to use them
A bad example is:
Mastering the magical art of writing a wonderful subheading
Try to keep your header styling consistent too. A reader should be able to understand the priority of different headers at a glance.
Most web content management systems will have a hierarchy of header styles - eg Heading 1, Heading 2, Paragraph 1, Paragraph 2 - to help you maintain the same formatting throughout your site.
Paragraphs are a block of text that contain a complete thought. In print, they can be pretty long. Ten sentences or more.
But online they need to be shorter. Think one or two sentences max. Because a huge block of text - especially on mobile devices - is enough to put readers off.
Shorter paragraphs encourage readers to tackle your content, as well as help them scan text and spot your key points.
It also puts plenty of white space around your text, which makes it easier to read and improves comprehension.
5. The F pattern
Eye scanning tech has found that people in Western cultures scan content in an F pattern.
They start by scanning horizontally across the top of the page.
Then down the left-side of the content to see if anything catches their eye and interest.
And, when they find something interesting, they scan horizontally again.
How does this info help you write more skimmable web content?
Because you can predict where your visitors will look - and optimize that content to catch their attention.
Use headers effectively. Frontload key words at the start of the header. And keep them short and easy to read.
6. White space / negative space
White space is the space around your words. It mproves readability and legibility, making for a much nicer user experience.
White space feels open and uncluttered, whereas a crammed webpage can feel overwhelming (and is likely to lead to higher bounce rate). Negative space helps readers scan and understand web page content more easily.
It can also help you draw attention to areas of the web page that you want readers to focus on, such as your call-to-action.
One of the big no-nos of web page formatting is justified text. That's when you set text to have artificially straight edges on both the left and right edges.
Justified text extended the gaps between words to make the line lengths even. This can make it harder to read the text, and the gaps can create distracting 'rivers' of white space running down the page.
It also makes it harder for readers to orientate themselves within the text. We subconsciously use different line lengths to know where we are and which line comes next. But when text is justified, we don't have that visual clue. Text is one big solid block - intimidating and impenetrable.
The overall effect is to make your text harder and less appealing to read. Which is the opposite of what you want to achieve.
Left-alignment is a better option for languages and cultures that use left-to-right text
Right-alignment is best for languages and cultures that use right-to-left text
And there you have it. Seven website copy formatting tips to boost your website performance without any technical trickery.
Inspired to improve your web copy but not sure how to start? I can help. Email email@example.com to start the ball rolling.
About the author
Libby Marks is an award-winning copywriter and content marketer. After 15+ years in marketing and communications, she escaped the 9-to-5 and started Write on Tyne.
Write on Tyne is a small content and copywriting agency dedicated to making marketing managers' lives easier.
We provide top-notch copy for campaigns, content marketing, and websites - underpinned by expertise in marketing strategy and SEO.