Words, Words, Mere Words…Writing Style for Print vs. Web

Print publications — from newspaper articles to marketing brochures — contain linear content that’s often consumed in a more relaxed setting and manner than the solution-hunting behavior that characterizes most high-value Web use. Web content must be brief and get to the point quickly, because users are likely to be on a specific mission. In many cases, they’ve pulled up the page through search. Web users want actionable content; they don’t want to fritter away their time on (otherwise enjoyable) stories that are tangential to their current goals. >>Full Story

Thoughts// Jakob Nielson has been called the “the king of usability” and I try and read his latest usability tips as much as time allows. His latest work on “writing style” for print versus online and the related research showing that web users are getting more ruthless and selfish when viewing online content is quite fascinating. According to his research, consumers are impatient when viewing content and many “simply to reach a site quickly, complete a task and leave”.

He also cites a recent NY Times attention grabbing headline, Coping With the Tall Traveler’s Curse; Neilson believes that while the headline might be “enticing and might draw readers in” on paper, the headline doesn’t work online because of the headline lacks keywords to draw the user in.

While I wholeheartedly agree on the basic premise of abbreviated copy writing style for the web, I think the travel industry (DMO’s in particular) are uniquely positioned to be a bit more free to express themselves online. Unlike banks, e-commerce or auction sites, we’re in the business of selling dreams and fantasies; by its nature, vacation dreams are vivid, imaginative and alluring, thus freeing the travel marketer from being “robotic” in his/her writing style, even online! A few rules that our team follows at Travel Oregon are:

  1. Whimsical, quirky storytelling style: Our online material, while brief and to the point, takes on a bit of a storytelling style; in our experience, a longer story peppered with rich keywords and appropriate bullets helps to sell the experience better and gets better engagement

  2. Tell a better digital story by adding photos and/or videos. Our blog stories with video/photos get proportionally longer visits by consumers

  3. Use descriptive text for links versus the generic “click here”

  4. Write for people, not machines! This is by far my biggest pet peeve with web writing. Yes, definitely pepper your copy with SEO keywords but don’t do it to the point where you’re disrespecting your audience. Here is a good example (from actual hompage copy of a Portland hotel) of what I mean by a brand writing for machines versus people:

    Hotel XXXX is a Portland hotel where style and comfort converge. Situated in the heart of downtown Portland, the Hotel XXXX offers a unique alternative to all other Portland, Oregon hotels. Our guests enjoy the personalized service and lavish hotel amenities that have earned the Hotel XXXX Portland a spot among the world’s best hotels. Inside, experience cutting-edge design and unsurpassed comfort. Venture outside and be at the epicenter of all Portland has to offer, including Portland attractions, Portland restaurants, tax free Portland shopping, art galleries and theatre.

Writer’s Note: For more on “digital storytelling” checkout the YouTube video above; if you can’t see it in your e-mail, please read this story on this blog.

Comment? @travel2dot0 or email.