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Writing for the Web—How to Get it Right

Posted by on August 17th, 2015
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Branding, Nonprofit Communications, Nonprofit Copywriting, Nonprofit Messaging, Nonprofit Web    Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

One of the most rewarding parts of executing a new brand is rolling out a new website. Seeing your organization’s colors, imagery, and messaging come together for the first time in a dynamic new site is exciting. Our clients always look forward to this important milestone (and so do we!).

Creating a new website takes work. It requires careful attention to your newly adopted brand guidelines. And this goes beyond the visual elements of your new brand. If you lose sight of your new communications goals, you run the risk of ending up right back where you started—talking about your organization in an ineffective way that doesn’t reflect who you are and how you want to be seen.

So how do you get started writing on-brand content for your new site? Combining the best of Jakob Nielsen’s Writing for the Web and our best branding practices, we’ve pulled together some tips for writing web content that we hope you find useful.

Before You Get Started
You’re excited about your new website and your instinct is to dive in and just start writing. Halt! Some upfront planning will keep your web content on-brand.

  • Determine your audiences and clarify the goals for your website. Which of your audiences use your website as a key source of information? What do you need them to do? Does your site simply want to inform? Do you want to persuade them to donate? Or recruit them as a volunteer? Plan your content accordingly.
  • Carefully study your Brand Book or set of brand guidelines. Pay special attention to your organization’s Brand Personality. Those attributes should come alive through your writing. For example, if your organization’s personality is maternal and compassionate, consider words and phrases that are warm and nurturing. Or, if you are a serious, intellectual brand, your language must be professional and well-informed.
  • Select someone to oversee the web content. While several people in your organization may write the content for your site, one or two people should be in charge of reviewing all content and editing it for a consistent voice throughout the content.
  • Plan more time than you think you need! Time after time, we see clients race to a web launch date, furiously editing content until the very last minute. Good writing takes time. Looking at every page on your website with a fresh eye cannot be rushed. Make sure that you give yourself the time you need to ensure your content is as sharp as your design.

Write for Scanability
People don’t read web pages. They scan. And they make snap judgments. Your readers will skim your site and quickly decide if your site is credible, current, and worthy of their time.

  • Avoid pages without content. Invite readers to spend time on the pages of your website with crisp, cogent content. Pages without content can leave a reader feeling like they’ve wasted their time. Lists of links, image-only pages, and pages that lack substantive informative will result in your readers turning to other resources.
  • Use the inverted pyramid. Like news stories, web content should have the most important information at the top of the page and supporting information following in the order of most to least important.
  • Be succinct! Web pages should have half the word count of conventional writing. Edit out extraneous words, eliminate flowery language, and avoid passive verb construction.

Maintain Credibility
The Internet is full of misinformation, opinion, and biased sources. Write content that establishes credibility, trust, and professionalism.

  • Carefully balance subjective and objective language. Your organization’s mission and beliefs will likely have some level of subjectivity. That’s okay. Balance that opinionated language with factual and objective information that is verifiable and indisputable. For example, if your organization aims to educate the masses on climate change, your site may say something like, “Climate change is the biggest problem our world faces.” Not everyone will agree with this. Backing up your opinion with facts and data will help you convince more readers that your cause is worthwhile and will keep you credible.
  • Keep pages updated. Out of date information makes readers question the validity of the rest of the information on your site.
  • Proofread. And then proofread again. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes can reverse all the hard work you’ve put into building your organization’s reputation. For rules of style and grammar, we recommend The Chicago Manual of Style and Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age.

Your organization’s website might be the best way to communicate directly to your key audiences. Don’t miss this opportunity to make a clear impression on them.


Stephanie is a Mission Minded Brand Strategist and a huge Harry Potter nerd.

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