11 Quick Tips For More Usable Content

February 10th, 2009
Published on
February 10th, 2009

According to CWsites over at Mind Eye Web Design, 95% of web users do not read 80% of content on a site. With these statistics already working against you, how can you improve your content to ensure that readers are getting the best user experience from your site?

In this article, we provide 11 general best practices to help improve the readability, usability, and value of content on any site.

Communication

The first thing to pay attention to when writing is how well you’re communicating with people. That communication can be improved by breaking up the content, using links appropriately, summarizing information at the end of a piece, and providing readers with a way to respond or ask questions.

1. Break It Up

Large chunks of text run the risk of blending together and being difficult to read. Instead, break them into relevant paragraphs to make it easier on the eyes. Think of the text as a conversation, and consider each paragraph an answer to a follow up question.

Also, when reading on a computer, it is very rare that a reader is concentrating solely on what they are reading. They usually have IM clients running, blogs to look at, children screaming, you name it. By breaking the text into paragraphs you are making it easier for readers to find their place again if they have to turn away from the screen. Breaking content into small, “bite sized” chunks also makes it less intimidating and will appear to take less time to read.

2. Use Links for More Information

Often, we write for more than one audience. Alternatively, you might have many—or most—readers who are beginners, but a few who are looking for more information. In order to provide the right content for both, use links.

Links will direct the more advanced readers to the right place, without scaring off people who are looking for the basics and aren’t ready for lots of technical information. This also keeps content from becoming too bulky.

3. Summarize and Conclude

TIt’s an old school essay trick, but it’s important to introduce people to a concept and then summarize it at the end. It’s particularly true for writing articles, but can also be helpful when considering web pages as a whole. Summaries at the end allow readers to cement their information, and remember the key points. When summarizing, keep it short and to the point.

4. Offer a Space for Questions

Even the best piece of content will lead to more questions. Perhaps the piece offered a snapshot, and readers want to know what to do next, or maybe readers want to contact the author to discuss a specific section of the content. Regardless of the reason, make sure to provide readers with a way to get more and continue the conversation. Either have a link to a valid email address, or integrate a contact form into your site. For a great free contact form, try Wufoo.

Style the Content

Just as important as how the content is segmented, is how it’s styled. We can use visual styles to call attention to key information.

5. Use Sub Headings

Most people scan content looking for what is relevant to them. Sub headings, with appropriate styles, can be a huge blessing for people short on time. Using them allows readers to scan through and find the section that they would find most interesting and/or helpful. Make sure your sub headings are relevant to the content below them.

Keep in mind that headings and sub-headings are also read by search engines. Their styles help readers scan, but the content in the headings will also help when people search for this information.

6. Bold and Italicize Important Content

If there is something within your content that you feel should be emphasized, take the time to bold, italicize, or pull it out into a sidebar. Make it incredibly easy for users to pull out the information that they need, using visual cues where possible. This, along with sub headings, is the key to creating content that users can scan.

7. Choose a Readable Font

Whereas ornate font may make you stand out, if your users are unable to read your content, there is no point having it. A good sans serif, like Helvetica, is easy on the eyes and won’t make your readers strain to decipher your information. Unique fonts work well in banners or graphics, but the actual content should be simple and not tiny.

unreadable-font

Writing

Of course, the actual content is important too! It might surprise you to learn that less is often more, when it comes to web content.

8. Remove Anything That You Do Not Need

Overly flowery or verbose language, though great in poetry, is not advisable for web content.
Be specific, direct and write only what is needed.

For example, saying “If you would like to be granted access to our fabulous area containing supportive information and advice, we request that you gently depress the button on your external mouse device” isn’t quite as user friendly as a link that just says “Technical Support.”

9. Use Stephen King’s 10% Rule

Stephen King’s book “On Writing” is a wonderful resource for anyone looking to learn about writing. One of his best tips is that your “Second Draft = First Draft – 10%“. So after you have written your content, check your word count. Now go back through and eliminate 10% of what you have written. This will make it tighter and more concise.

Editing Sample

Maintenance

Lastly, check over your content on a regular basis to keep it up to snuff. Here are a few tips for governing content and making sure it’s relevant and well-written.

10. Update Your Content Frequently

Make a point of regularly checking through your content to ensure that it is still relevant and hasn’t become stale. If you have changed any policies or procedures, or if you have timely information that is no longer relevant, be sure to edit as needed. I would advise checking your content at least once a month, depending on the nature of your site. This also gives you the opportunity to look at it another time and check for clarity.

11. Proof Your Content Thoroughly

Take the time to proof content for typing and grammatical errors. It helps to read it out loud so that you can see where any issues with flow might occur. Typos can be incredibly distracting to your users. Try and get a second pair of eyes to go over your work before it goes live.

Recommended Resources

Here are a few resources for writing good content:

Do you have any other great tips for keeping your content more usable? Just let us know in the comments!