11 Quick Tips For More Usable Content

Here are 11 quick tips for ensuring your content is usable.

According to CWsites over at Mind Eye Web Design, 95% of web users do not read 80% of your content. 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?

1. Break It Up

When you have large chunks of text that run the risk of blending together, break them into relevant paragraphs to make it easier on the eyes. When reading on a computer, it is very rare that your user 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 your text into paragraphs you are making it easier for them to find their place again if they have to turn away from the screen.

Breaking your content into small chunks also makes it less intimidating and will appear to consume less time.

2. Use Sub Headings

Most people scan content looking for what is relevant to them. Sub headings 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.

3. 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:

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“.

4. 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 SampleImage by Found Drama

5. Make Sure the Most Important Material Stands Out

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.

6. Make Sure Your Font is Readable

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-fontImage by The Moog

7. Summarize and Conclude

This applies mostly to articles. It’s an old school essay trick, but it’s important to introduce people to a concept and then summarize it at the end. This allows readers to make sure they have discovered the right information, and then later to be sure they got the point. When summarizing, keep it short and to the point.

8. Use Links Within Your Content to Direct Advanced Users

If you’re covering something in your content that is initially simple, but has an advanced option, use links to direct your more advanced users rather than scaring off the more basic users with too much technical information. This also keeps your content from becoming too bulky. This also works as a way to draw advanced users deeper into your site.

9. Make Sure People Know Where to Ask Questions

Sometimes you can’t cover everything in your content. Just in case your content isn’t up to scratch, make sure you provide readers with a way that they can contact you for more information or clarification. 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.

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 your 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 for Writing Good Content:

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

Write for UX Booth

Contribute to UX Booth
Contribute

Contribute a guest post to UX Booth and let the community know what's important to you!



Comments

  1. All great tips! Thanks!

  2. No. 3. *NEVER* use “click here”

    • I couldn’t agree more. I can’t stand the idea of “click here”. It’s always better to use images that represent where a user wants to go, or just add a link to the text that most accurately describes where the link is going. Amen!

  3. Great, Great Read! thanks for these tips.
    Lovin’ the “Stephen King Rule”

    I have also found that by waiting a day or at least a few hours before coming back to my article for proof, lends to a fresh set of eyes, that allow me to catch things that I may have missed previously.

    thanks again

    ~Aaron I

  4. @xman: Noted and fixed. Had a minor brain boo boo there. Thanks for calling my attention to it!

    @Aaron Irizarry: Great point Aaron! I usually try and “sleep on” an article.

  5. Great article. In most cases, you should start with your conclusion. The most important information should be at the top. all the background, reasoning and exceptions should follow. Look up the ‘inverted pyramid’ if you want to know more

    I’d also suggest that if you’re only dropping 10% then you’re not going far enough. Conventional wisdom suggests that you should aim for 50% and then go back and try for another 50%.

    Oh and not forgetting short and simple sentences :0)
    http://www.goodusability.co.uk/2009/01/short-and-simple-sentences/

    Keep up the great work guys.

  6. On Recommended Resources for Writing Good Content:
    Both your suggestions are excellent resources!

  7. If you want to improve how scannable your text is, give it some breathing room. The default line height in most browsers is too tight for quick scanning, in my opinion.

    Another classic resource to improve writing is William Zinnser’s On Writing Well. I read it at least once a year.

  8. Pretty Interesting tips.. I liked your article….M sure it will helpful special for the newbies…

  9. On the subject of using less text than you originally write, Steve Krug says in his book “Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability” that you should write your copy, than slash half of it, than slash half of that. Might sound harsh, but deep down you know he’s right.

  10. I am still a bit rubbish at content creation, especially for websites. I will defo follow these rules. Stephen King ‘rules!’… See what I did there?!

  11. #4 has saved me a lot. Most people sit down to write content and simply go into too much detail because they either underestimate their audiences ability to piece things together, or just feel they should state EVERYTHING.

    Getting everything down, taking a break, then re-evaluating and pulling out the fluff has gotten me to write better content, and it shows in my analytics.

  12. These are great tips – thank you.
    I enjoy writing, and sometimes get attached to my own cleverness and word usage. But if no one can plough through it then what’s the point?
    Tighten, pare down, and then tighten some more.
    Also I must learn to give myself time to get away from a piece and then come back to it to edit. I always feel a rush to hit publish.
    (See even my comments are too long.)

  13. Great rundown of this advice. It’s so common that I just can’t understand why people don’t treat these are rules to web write. Honestly, after so many ‘pros’ have rehashed the basics why do people still insist on writing content that won’t engage readers. I guess that’s why the pros make more money. ;-)

  14. @Kent:

    I do think at times it’s important to be clear and go through the details, especially for the beginners. My lecturer once taught: treat your reader as a dummy; meaning be as clear as possible. I don’t find reading detailed post a nuisance, especially when it’s a tutorial type.

    Glad that I stumbled this post. Very useful and thorough pointers.

  15. Great tips, especially for bloggers

  16. Great post, very clear and precise. I’ll definitely apply these techniques. Thanks!

  17. Hmmm the 10% rule is interesting, not heard of that before.

  18. Great info which I will bookmark and refer to whenever I am writing an article. I like the part about coming back to look again before committing yourself. I learned this many years ago when writing in anger!! Save it – look at it tomorrow before you send it!

  19. First of all this is a great post and I did bookmark it on delicious.com

    However, I do disagree with xman on point #3. MarketingSherpa conducted a test on this same subject but I couldn’t find the email newsletter in my inbox. Fortunately, copyblogger.com wrote an article on it.

    Does Telling Someone to “Click Here” Work?
    Click here –> http://www.copyblogger.com/click-here/

    • Yeah, with all the bad design practices that are still evident throughout the web, I can’t understand the uproar over using two little words that Every. Single. Person. using a browser understands.

      I estimate that 99% of my clients, when they provide me with text updates for their websites, specifically request the phrase “Click here” when a link is called for. They intuitively understand what it means, and they believe (correctly) that THEIR clients understand it also. Whether it offends my design sensibilities or not, if it doesn’t hurt the usability of the site, it’s not worth arguing about.

  20. Nice summary. This is one of those posts every writer should come back to once a month and make sure he is on track.

    One thing that works really well with me is to start any article or post with a problem. And the more generic the problem the better. Posts starting with Picture this: <> or “Have you ever…” seem to have worked very well for me. Basically, the main thing is that any content which solves any of the reader’s pain point and gets to it quickly makes for great content.

  21. Wow great tips, I get the new knowledge … to improve my writing.

  22. Tweeted by Smashing Magazine. That means something. So I had to come and read.

    I wasn’t disappointed. Evidently, the post itself is written using the author’s tips and suggestions.

    In a nutshell, I like the post.

  23. Great Tips every web designer should read. Cool that the Stephen King reference was included. Dean Koontz should take a gander and use the tip!

Related Posts