Wylie Communications Inc.
things mean a lot. Especially online.
Microcontent — or the
headlines, decks, subheads and other "small" pieces of Web copy
— actually do most of the communicating on your Website.
microcontent can confuse and frustrate Web visitors. Here's how to write
microcontent to communicate to — instead of discombobulating — your
What is microcontent?
Microcontent is a Web
page's presentation copy. It gives readers an at-a-glance overview of what
the page is about. Microcontent includes:
- Page titles
- Indexes, tables of
- Navigation bars,
- Decks, or the
one-sentence summary that follows the headline
- Bold-face lead-ins
- Highlighted text
Why is microcontent
Search, find and
save. Have you ever received a search result that read as
Do you have any
bookmarks that say: "Welcome to XYZ Corporation?" (Or worse,
Have you ever tried to
figure out which link to click in an index listing "Issue 1, Issue 2,
If so, you've been a
victim of poorly written microcontent.
Microcontent 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.
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.
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
Make your microcontent:
why they call it microcontent!)
Readers need to
understand microcontent 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.
love clever, cryptic headlines in print. But they don't work online.
One huge telecomm
company's Website features such links as "Openness — the road to
success" (a conference), "A sign of attitude" (cool phones)
and "Change your perspectives" (jobs for IT folks.) If you're
writing about conferences, phones and jobs, those words should appear in
The point here is to
communicate, not to intrigue. So strive for clarity instead of creativity.
Online, readers don't read; they scan. Microcontent 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 microcontent — 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.
readers understand your headlines and page titles without the text,
illustrations and supporting microcontent? 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 microcontent is easy to
understand no matter where it shows up, in or out of context.
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 "How to manage the approval process," try "Approval
process: How to manage the review system."
Also, move company and
publication names toward the end of the headline or page title. So
"Invest Online . . . at H&R Block," not "H&R Block
(Tip: Check out your
organization's index of press releases for a "how not to"
example of making lists easy to scan. How does yours stack up?)
with too many microcontent 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 microcontent that communicates — instead of
discombobulating — on the Web.
that gets the word out on the Web.
Want to learn how to
write microcontent that communicates to — instead of discombobulating
— your readers? Look for Ann's upcoming teleseminars at
works with communicators who want to reach more readers
and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more
about her training, consulting or writing and editing services,
contact her at ann@WylieComm.com
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© 2003 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.
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