People read differently online than with print—they scan. But you want more than that. While you should format your content to be scannable, you also want to entice people to start reading. And to do that, your content needs to be informative, engaging and organized intuitively.
As busy as they are, nonprofits often struggle with the principles of formatting for usability and consistency. Here are eight tips that tell you how to create content that people will read.
Cut the Jargon
No matter the type of work your nonprofit does, there are bound to be a few terms you use that might not fall within the vocabulary of your typical site visitor. If your site is full of terms and phrases that leave visitors wondering what you’re talking about, they’re probably going to lose interest pretty quickly. This doesn’t mean you can’t introduce (and explain) your unique vocabulary. It just means you shouldn’t use these words all throughout your site.
You want your content to educate, inspire and motivate visitors to support your cause. Clear, concise, engaging content can achieve these goals. People are more likely to read content that isn’t overwhelmingly lengthy. It’s less intimidating–and it’s less time consuming. So, with that in mind,
- Don’t use five sentences when you could say it in one.
- Keep sentences short. They’re easier to read.
- There’s no need for semi-colons. Ever. They’re just a fancy excuse to turn two sentences into one. (See point above.)
Whenever possible, add a list. This can be with numbers or bullets, but a list will help visitors easily scan through your content and pick out the key information. Lists are a whole lot easier to scan than huge blocks of content. Just remember, the simpler, the better.
Break Up Your Content
Have you ever clicked on a webpage only to be greeted by a giant block of text? You had zero interest in reading it at that point, right? Your visitors will feel the same way. Breaking content into easily digestible sections and short paragraphs makes it much more visitor-friendly.
Style with Headings
In addition to breaking up your content, use headings (starting with H2) to show the hierarchy of information within a page. Be sure to follow the order of the headings. Use a Heading 3 for subheadings of a section using Heading 2. It lets the user know that the content is housed underneath the larger section.
Avoid Excessive Bolding and Italics
Don’t use excessive bold and italic text (and definitely not both at the same time!) or add in funky text colors. You may think it adds visual interest, but this will only make it harder to achieve consistency in your formatting and looks scattered to the user. Use only bold text when you need to emphasize important phrases or sentences that help make the copy more scannable. Reserve italics for special terminology and the proper formatting of publication titles or other proper names.
A well-placed, strategic link can transform a visitor into a volunteer, a casual skimmer into a donor. It can provide legitimacy to your claims and turn a skeptic into a believer. It can also boost the number of visitors you get from search engines, which value content that’s well-connected. Add links to other pages on your website by considering what content a visitor on your current page would find interesting. Don’t be afraid to add links to external sites as needed. And instead of making visitors guess where they might land, make it easy by offering helpful and descriptive links.
Reduce Text with Images
Visually representing the work your nonprofit does within your content is important. Photos add emotion, depth and meaning where words just aren’t enough. If you’re wondering how to create content that’s less text heavy, choose a high quality image that shows your impact, reducing the amount of words you need to describe it.
FREE CHECKLIST: How to Create Content That’s Readable
Download a free formatting checklist to make sure each page of your website is structured for how users read on the web. If your content strategy involves multiple people entering and editing content, be sure to share this list with your team!
This page is Chapter 7 in our Beginner’s Guide to Nonprofit Website Content.