Elmore Leonard

Leave Out the Parts People Skip

Writer Elmore Leonard died Tuesday at the age of 87. The popular novelist left 10 Rules of Writing. Most of these don’t apply to web content, frankly, or at least not to the content for websites designed to represent businesses and organizations. If your business site’s homepage begins with, “It was a dark and stormy night,” you have more problems than can be dealt with in a list of ten rules.

However, Leonard’s rule 10, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip,” is excellent advice for web content.

Website owners often want to lead with a mission statement or a recitation of the awards they’ve won. In general, your readers don’t care. Most of the time, people have come to your website because of their needs and wants, not because they happen to be curious about your company. As a general rule, people visiting your website have a question they want answered, and they will skim till they find the information they need to answer the question, at which point they will read.

I’m writing at the moment for a construction company specializing in geothermal technology. People arriving at their website will want to know what geothermal is, whether it can save them money, whether the company does a good job, and how to get in touch with them. Pretty self-centered, right?

Readers get to be self-centered. Websites, therefore, don’t.

Here are some more things people skip:

  • terms and policies
  • banner ads
  • privacy notices
  • disclaimers
  • paragraphs studded with phrases like “with regard to” and “in terms of”
  • most sales pitches

There are some things that most people will skip — but which your customers are likely to read. For example, your “About Us” page will probably be read by only about 10% of your visitors (more if you offer a service for which trust is the essential selling point; fewer if you sell a product), but that 10% is probably thinking actively about buying from you. Your “About Us” page gets skipped a lot, but it’s important for the people who read it, and for your business.

The same is true for ads and sales pitches. Most people may skip them, but people who are ready to buy may read them carefully. Do a good job with them.

There are even things that your visitors may skip but which are important for search engines. If you’re a CPG manufacturer, your human visitors may never look at your physical address, but it can have SEO benefits to include it. Site maps, too, are good for search engines. If visitors can’t find their way around your website without a site map, though, you need a new website.

With those caveats, you’re probably best off not writing the stuff people skip. If you must, keep them off the homepage. A visitor who has had to wade through your privacy policy and personal bio in order to find your shipping rates will not like you or your products any more by the time he or she gets to those rates.






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