Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Blah-Blah Text: Keep, Cut, or Kill?

Removing unnecessary text ...

"Introductory text on Web pages is usually too long, so users skip it. But short intros can increase usability by explaining the remaining content's purpose.

The introductory paragraph(s) found at the top of many Web pages is what I call blah-blah text: a block of words that users typically skip when they arrive at a page. Instead, their eyes go directly to more actionable content, such as product features, bulleted lists, or hypertext links.

The worst kind of blah-blah has no function; it's pure filler — platitudes, such as "Welcome to our site, we hope you will find our new and improved design helpful."

Kill the welcome mat and cut to the chase.

People read very little on Web pages. Don't waste word count on generic, feel-good material. It's not going to make customers feel good anyway. They care only about getting their problems solved as quickly as possible so they can leave your site.
Mea Culpa
It's easy to tell Web writers to cut the fluff. It's harder to actually do it. Each time a new content contributor joins your team, you must drill them incessantly on the special guidelines for writing for the Web. The guidelines seem obvious, but it takes a lot of skill to design good verbiage.

That's why I repeatedly stress the rules for content usability, and why I include a targeted writing course at all my conferences. (As far as I know, our event is the only usability or Web design conference with this level of commitment to writing. I always teach content usability because the actual information is the Web design component with the highest impact on website profitability.)

Despite my constant emphasis on the importance of the writing guidelines, I fall into the bloated blah-blah trap myself. It's been 10 years and numerous lectures since I developed the guidelines in 1997, but I still make content usability mistakes. That shows just how hard it is, and why you need to continuously check your copy for usability compliance.

As an example, we recently posted a series of interviews with participants in our usability conference. In my original design, the page featuring these interviews started with the following blah-blah text: (below)

At least I had the smarts to highlight keywords. Still, this is too much text, and most users are guaranteed to skip a full paragraph like that, particularly when it sits above a list of enticingly blue links that are begging to be clicked.

Just before posting the page, I remembered my own advice to cut the text in half for online readers. I removed the first sentence, reducing the intro paragraph from 43 words to 24. (Admittedly, this was only a 44% reduction in word count; I should have cut deeper.)"    (Continued via Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

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