Online Communications Copywriter, City of Tea Tree Gully
The online environment needs to cater for a variety of audiences, as it provides a single entry point for all information publically available to the wider community or stakeholder group(s) for that business or organisation.
As the (contracted) Online Communications Copywriter, Charlie’s role included working with departments and teams within Council to (understand needs and requirements and then) write content for the external website during the webite redevelopment project.
For this project our first step was to establish a written tone for each audience group. It was determined there were two audiences, business and community. Note: it is acceptable to use different written tones within a website.
Community members will accept this concept as it is essentially the same as living and working within a local area. In one instance they are “Mr Citizen of local home street address” and in the next they are “Mr Citizen, shop owner”.
The business audience will seek information which can be legal in nature requiring a more formal tone. The community and/or youth audiences, will refer to those who seek information from council such as servicesand information requiring a more engaging tone.
When writing content for online, faster lifestyles, social media and a tech savvy public all have impact on what users/readers expect. At all times the online style should reflect the overall brand and style of corporate policies, with consideration to its environment uniqueness. It is and was important to consider first the online reader to ensure the conveyed message addresses what the online reader needs to know or what impacts them first.
For example (specifically for this project) “They will empty and remove your split bin on your last scheduled collection day in April” could be rewritten as “On your last scheduled collection day in April, they will empty and remove your split bin”. This change brings the word “your” into the second position – quickly raising awareness the reader is impacted.
When writing content it is important to remember the online reading environment is different to that of a hard-copy printed publication. Therefore, it would not be accepted to turn a printed publication’s text into an online content page verbatim. Some rework and editing is required and mandatory. Current trends (as at 2011) indicate online readership prefer:
- Long page titles
- Long pages
- Short paragraphs
- Short sentences
When writing content it is good to use an editorial strategy to define guidelines by which all online content is governed: values, voice, tone, legal and regulatory concerns, user-generated content, and so on. This practice also defines an online editorial calendar, including content life cycles.
So, to share some specifics that I used for the Council’s redeveloped website, here goes:
- The use of bullet points, thereby introducing “white space”, provides resting points for online eyes. The reader will read from left to right in a close sweeping motion, travelling down the page in a shape similar to an “F”.
- Waffling sentences can frustrate, encouraging readers to skim. Avoid adding unnecessary words (no baggage). Keep sentences short and to the point.
- Introduce the reader to the most important information or message at the top of your content. Your opening sentence will be read, and therefore will be the most crucial. This is particularly important for the new mobile reader. With mobile technology becoming far more prevalent in today’s market, the ability for content to be rendered easily and then easily read is of utmost importance. More so than the development of a proper mobile user interface.
- Consider search engines. Optimise titles, and your introduction paragraphs with consideration to “being found”. Just in case!
- Use one idea per paragraph.
- Use fly-out comments or highlighted text.
- Use images.
- Bold some text to grab the eye. This works well on long pages to ensure the eye travels.
- Engage the reader to review your entire article. Do not link to other websites, content or files within the body of your content. This will distract the online reader to do that action (ie go to the other website, download that file etc), rather than read your entire article. Provide an “attachments and links” or “reference” area at the base of the article or content section to provide the online reader with this information.