By Mary Ann Horn (Orlando Area Chapter)
Declaring that: “The web is a battlefield,” Jeff Stevens urged PR professionals to be energetic in making their websites competitive for readers attention and to improve Web users experience online
Stevens, who manages web content for UF Health, cautions that people visit websites for many different reasons and with many different devices. Responsive web design, he said, not only scales content for mobile devices but is also a content strategy opportunity. Websites no longer break down into desktop and mobile, resulting in what he calls “content parity.”
Many users now have a smartphone as their only Web traffic device. About 50% of UF’s Web traffic is from mobile users, he said.
In managing Web content, Stevens said everyone on the team – designers, developers and content strategists must all work together for a better experience.
Stevens then offered his “20 Tips for Persuasive Web Content”
- Pare down. Cut content. Most people (79%) just scan Web pages and are not reading all the content on your site. Most organizations put too much content on the Web, and it’s redundant, outdated or trivial. Clearer paths and easier navigation make for better user experience and easier maintenance.
- Analyze content. Look for consistency of message, relevance, multiple access paths and information trails. Think from a “mobile first” perspective. Shrink data for at-a-glance reading.
- Target your efforts. Think about what will have the most impact and concentrate efforts there.
- Know the competition. Benchmark competitors’ writing styles, content and layouts. Study both top performers and less successful competitors. Then emulate what you think will work for you and move ahead of the competition by innovating. Remember that your competition on the Web is not only your direct competitors, but the rest of the Web also competes for readers’ attention.
- Do what you do best. What type of content do you excel at producing? Build from strengths.
- Find your tone. This is the way you want to come across on the Web. It means you have to understand your audiences and reframe as needed to reach different readers. At UF, Stevens said, there is technical and academic content that can be reframed for nontechnical readers in shorter and easier-to-understand terms.
- Discuss your narrative structure. This is not necessarily a story. It’s the pacing of your Web page, including how you highlight info on the page.
- Write better leads and headlines. These grab readers’ attention and result in more click-throughs. Bright headlines and thumbnail photos add interest. Odd numbers have more resonance with readers. (“29 Tricks for Losing Weight,” etc.) Using colons or asking questions also will attract readers.
- Look at benefits vs. features. Sometimes how the product or knowledge makes you feel is more important than the particulars.
- Avoid jargon. Think in terms of what readers will search for on the Web. Use words that are in common conversation, not just technical terms.
- Be brief. Be respectful of readers’ time. Pare down the text and go for something that will connect with the reader. Being succinct hooks the reader.
- Make sure content is scannable. Use headers and call-outs throughout the site. This helps both human readers and search engines pick out the content. Readers’ concentration is best at the top of the page. Break things up in chunks and lists and direct to more content.
- Be clear. Maintain honesty and be candid. Use testimonials and reviews, if appropriate. Be clear on product costs. Reviews can help organizations improve performance as well as build trust.
- No dead ends. Exploit attention gaps to keep readers on the site. Bottom and side rails can offer related content before a reader grows bored with the site. Some sites are using the “infinite scroll.”
- Call to action. This can be the most important thing on a page, because it urges the reader to do something. It should be placed well, so people see it clearly in the text.
- Learn to break the rules. Know when something is unique for you.
- Always be testing. Make sure things still work the way they did when you started them. Don’t make assumptions about what is reaching readers. Make small changes and observe the differences over 30-60 days. Google Experiments (A/B/N Testing tool in Google Analytics) allows you to make some variations in a page and send users to different versions and track the results to see what performs the best.
- Convey empathy. Put yourself in the user’s shoes. Ask — formally and informally — for opinions on your content. Users’ comments will go beyond the analytics.
- Fight for the users. Help make their Web experience better.
- Go do awesome.
Assistant Web Manager at UF Health
Jeff Stevens is assistant web manager for UF Health, the University of Florida Academic Health Center, where he consults on content and social media strategy, information architecture, and usability for the more than 600 academic and clinical websites associated with the Center. With his team, Stevens overhauled the web presence of UF Health with an innovative approach to aggregated content that led to a 300 percent increase in online appointments and a 30 percent increase in overall web traffic within nine months. Stevens is also Creative Director for Union Design & Photo, a creative services boutique that has worked with hundreds of small businesses in developing branding identities. With almost 15 years experience in higher education web design and digital content strategy, he has been a frequent speaker for the Higher Education Web Professionals Association, and has been a speaker at the Healthcare Experience Design Conference, the UF Summer Journalism Institute, the Responsive Web Design Summit, the Content Strategy Summit, and for the Florida Public Relations Association. Stevens has a master’s degree in mass communications with an emphasis in advertising from the University of Florida and lives a stone’s throw from Gainesville with his wife, two children, three cats, and a dog that thinks she’s a cat.