Little things mean a lot. Especially online.
Micro content — or the headlines, decks, subheads and other "small" pieces of Web copy — actually do most of the communicating on your Website.
Handled poorly, micro content can confuse and frustrate Web visitors. Here's how to write micro content to communicate to — instead of discombobulating — your readers:
What is micro content?
Micro content is a Web page's presentation copy. It gives readers an at-a-glance overview of what the page is about. Micro content includes:
- Page titles
- Indexes, tables of contents
- Navigation bars, buttons, links
- Decks, or the one-sentence summary that follows the headline
- Bold-face lead-ins
- Highlighted text
Why is micro content important?
Micro content helps readers:
Search, find and save. Have you ever received a search result that read as gobbledygook?
Do you have any bookmarks that say: "Welcome to XYZ Corporation?" (Or worse, "Untitled Page"?)
Have you ever tried to figure out which link to click in an index listing "Issue 1, Issue 2, Issue 3"?
If so, you've been a victim of poorly written micro content.
Micro content is likely to get picked up, listed and linked. Your page title, for example, will show up in search results and bookmarks. And your headlines may be listed in indexes. That means these elements must be clear regardless of whether the reader sees them within the context of the rest of the Web page.
Choose. Online communication doesn't offer the same kind of visual cues about a story's significance — placement, headline and length, for example — as print communication does. Instead, online readers must rely primarily on the topic and placement in an index.
That makes the words you choose particularly important.
Scan. Because reading online is so onerous, readers are more likely to scan than read. Good headlines, decks, subheads, bullets and bold-faced lead-ins make it easy for readers to get the gist of the story without reading the text.
What makes good micro content?
Make your micro content:
Short. (That's why they call it micro content!)
Readers need to understand micro content at a glance. Make it as tight as you can without sacrificing clarity. That means, for instance, limiting headlines to eight words and decks to 14 words.
Explanatory. I love clever, cryptic headlines in print. But they don't work online.
One Arts Site (who shall remain nameless) features such links as:
"Behind the Curtain"
(for finding out about the organization)
(which were thank you to donors)
(which actually spoke about the CREATION of the brochure, and the ad team who created it, but strangely not a link to request one!)
If you're writing about these things, those words should appear in the links. The point here is to communicate, not to intrigue. So strive for clarity instead of creativity. Honestly, if you were going to click on either of the two links below, which would you choose?
Behind the Curtain
One tells you what to find, the other is anyone's guess.
Scannable. Online, readers don't read; they scan. Micro content should make it easy for readers to get the gist of the page by scanning.
So pass the skim test. Have a colleague read just the micro content — the headlines, decks, subheads, bullets, buttons and links — of one of your Web pages. She should be able to understand the key points without reading the text.
Context-free. Can readers understand your headlines and page titles without the text, illustrations and supporting micro content? If your headline says "On the move," readers might not be able to figure out whether this is a page about employee promotions, a piece on your company's relocation benefits or an article about the new headquarters building.
If they can't understand, chances are, they won't click. Good micro content is easy to understand no matter where it shows up, in or out of context.
List-ready. Indexes and other lists are often alphabetical, so skip leading articles such as "an" and "the" unless you want your piece to be listed under "A" or "T."
Make the first word a potential search word to help readers scan for what they seek. So instead of "Our 33rd season," try "Plays Selected for our 33rd Season"
Limited. "Pages with too many micro content elements are like a busy intersection with too many road signs," writes Amy Gahran, editor of Contentious.com.
Use this approach, and you'll soon be writing micro content that communicates — instead of discombobulating — on the Web.