The number one biggest mistake in writing for the Web is not understanding the people who will be reading the content. I see this happen all the time in the content teams that I help, and it can lead to a lot of problems if you don’t really know the person you’re writing for. How can you craft the content to meet their needs? Before you write anything, answer these three questions. Who are you writing this for? What do they want and what do you want? First, who is this for? Which user groups or personas determine how much they know about the topic?
Once you figure this out, you’ll be better able to identify likely gaps in your user’s knowledge and fill those gaps in answering. This question will also help you determine what technical terminology your readers will and won’t be familiar with. For example, imagine we’re writing a description of a B2B product. If we know that a purchasing manager will be reading the content and they may not have as much expertize in the topic, we might want to go out of our way to explain and define technical terms in more detail. The only way to identify and avoid using jargon is to know what your users will no second determine why somebody would be reading this. What do they want out of it, or are they looking to get a specific fact? Are they trying to understand the subject matter or are they trying to decide whether or not to interact with us or to make up their mind about the company?
The answers to these questions will help you format and structure your content so that it can best serve that goal. Once I was helping a government agency client answer these questions about their content, they had an article on their external site and I asked them to consider why would someone seek out and read this? What would they be looking for and what would they get from this?
They ended up realizing that actually the only people who would get something from that particular piece of content would be employees of that agency. So they decided that that article had no business being on the external site and it should be moved to the Internet. Finally, what do you or your organization want from this piece of content? Why are you writing it? What do you hope will happen as a result? Essentially, what impact do you want this to have on the reader? Are you looking to drive more traffic to the site and attract attention? Do you want the reader to decide to buy your product or sign up for your service?
Do you want them to contact your sales team? Answering these questions will help you set your goals and the success criteria for the piece. Actually, accomplishing those goals involves combining the answer to this question, along with the answers to the first two questions. How can you help your readers get what they need, which also supports your organization’s goals while delivering that information in exactly the right way for that specific person? Understanding who you’re writing for and shaping the content to fit them is the core of your writing.