Writing for the Web

Use the following guidelines and resources to craft clear, compelling web copy that is helpful to your visitors.

Writing Best Practices

Keep text succinct and clear

People visit your website for information, not to read for pleasure. Keep paragraphs and sentences brief and to the point.

Put the most important information at the top

Start pages with a short introductory statement that previews what a visitor will find on a page or in a section of the site. This helps visitors determine whether they have arrived on a page that’s helpful and relevant to them. Keep this text to one or two sentences.

Make it actionable

Who are you writing for? What do you want this person to know or do as a result of visiting this page? What action would you like them to take? Place important calls to action immediately after your introductory copy.

Add structure to longer pages

Have a lengthy page? First, eliminate all unnecessary words and phrases. Second, use subheadings and bulleted lists to help visitors find the information most relevant to them at a glance. Finally, consider using page components such as accordions and tabs to organize and group less critical content or content that’s only relevant to a small portion of your audience.

SEO Best Practices

Use plain language

To help visitors find your page, think about the words they might use. Avoid jargon, abbreviations, or labels that only PNW insiders would know. Spell out all acronyms on first reference.

Avoid keyword stuffing

90% of good SEO is writing clear, well structured pages for humans, not search engines. Repeating words and phrases over and over again because you think a search engine would like them will annoy your visitors and hurt your page rankings.

Don’t forget the meta description

This is the text that appears under a page title on a search engine results page (SERP). It helps visitors decide whether or not they should click on a link to visit a page. A few tips for writing a good meta description:

  1. Keep meta descriptions to 150 characters or fewer.
  2. A one-sentence description is best.
  3. Each page should have a unique description.
  4. Do not use quotation marks. This causes Google to truncate your description.

How to update the meta description

In the Purdue University Northwest site the meta description is managed by the Yoast SEO plugin. To update the meta description, find the Yoast SEO section on the page edit screen. Select the “Edit snippet” button, and then enter the page’s meta description into the “Meta description” field. It is important to remember to click the “Update” button on the page edit screen after making this (or any) change to the page.

Accessibility Best Practices

Write descriptive links

This is helpful for all website visitors, but especially those with screen readers who are trying to find the most relevant link on a page. “Click here” is not useful, but “Learn more about applying” is.

Use heading tags in hierarchical order

Heading tags (H1-H6) tell screen readers how your page is organized. They allow visitors who are using screen readers to scan your page and find what’s most relevant to them. Using headings out of order creates confusion.

Training and Resources

mStoner “Writing for the Web” Workshop

This recorded webinar offers a high-level introduction to web-content strategy, best practices, SEO and accessibility. Learn the basics or brush up on your skills as you write and develop content for PNW’s website.

“Writing for the Web” Workshop Slides

This is a great quick reference to the material covered in the recording above.