I said earlier that the web is increasingly becoming a visual medium – the popularity of sites like Facebook, You Tube and Pinterest is evidence of that. And even text-based platforms like Twitter are popular because they condense that text into 140 characrer bite-size chunks. However this doesn’t mean that the copy (i.e. words) on your site is any less important or valuable. Quite the opposite I’d say.
The words you use and the stories you tell to describe your charity’s work are one of the most important factors in determining how well you’ll recruit supporters, donors and staff.
As a sector, ours often has a tendency towards the verbose and the technical. In our academic papers, theses and seminars we often resort to jargon and language that outsiders can struggle to comprehend. There’s nothing wrong with that – we’re often dealing with complexities and nuances – but just be careful about using too much of that language on the sections of your website which are aimed at engaging the public. Brevity and straight-talking are attributes you should measure each paragraph against.
I’m not at all suggesting that you need to ‘dumb down’ your web copy because your visitors are too stupid to understand them. I’m simply saying that if you want people to engage with your mission and be inspired to support it, then you need to make sure you’re talking to them in a language that they’ll find accessible and interesting. Remember – they’ve got 3 billion other websites that they could visit instead, so having them on yours is a privelege.
This isn’t dumbing down or patronising – it’s ‘communication’. Big brands spend a fortune on it and reap the rewards in terms of customer loyalty and sales.
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead”.
— Mark Twain
Getting your point across in just a paragraph or two might seem like a time-saver, but in fact you’ll probably find that it takes longer to write 200 good words on a subject than 600 average ones. You’ll need to do a fair bit of editing to make sure that every single word is earning its place and really needs to be there. Print it out, take a break and come back to it an hour or so later to see if you can remove or condense half of your sentences. The easiest low hanging fruit is often the text filler that people write as introductions to pages on their site. You done’t need to welcome people to your page, or invite them to look around, or tell them what’s on the page. Most people have been using the internet for a long time now and they know how a website works. Their eyes are very accustomed to just skipping straight past all that gumpf, so leave it out and get stuck straight into the juicy content.
Woods for the trees
One of the biggest problems I encounter is that charity staff can be a bit too close to their subject to be able to see it from the perspective of a newcomer. It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that people know why your cause matters, or the context or impact of it. Some of them certainly will, but no means all.