Adam DeJong, a onetime journalist-turned California-based website content specialist, penned a recent column outlining how some classic rules of journalism still apply in his new role.
As a former reporter myself, I agree with most of what DeJong wrote, particularly points 3, 4, and 5: “If your lede [stinks], the rest doesn’t matter,” “What’s your nut graf,” and “Cut the fat.”
Or, if we cut away the journalism jargon, and sum up the underlying message: “You have about 2 seconds to impress someone with your website, or they’re gone.”
It’s a long-established, but still-lamented, fact in the newspaper business that readers seldom read much beyond the headline and first sentence, regardless of how much time, hustle, and wordsmithing went into crafting the article. It’s one of the reasons many newspapers emphasize splashy headlines and captivating first sentences – because they want to draw readers in.
As DeJong lays out in his piece, these same practices hold true for your website:
“If your lede [stinks], the rest doesn’t matter” – You need to hook your viewers immediately, or they’re going to start getting ready to nibble elsewhere. If you give them your tastiest bait, they will linger a bit longer. (And, yes, spelling, punctuation, and grammar count.)
“What’s your nut graf?” – In journalism, a nut graf is a one-sentence summation of the entire article. A good exercise for anyone putting together a website is the elevator pitch: Explain to a complete stranger what you do and why you’re important, in a succinct and compelling manner, in 30 seconds or less.
Once you have your nut graf nailed down, put it in a prominent spot on your website. It doesn’t have to be the first thing you viewer reads, but you certainly don’t want them to miss it either.
“Cut the fat” – The web is great for writers, where they can finally shake loose the cruel bonds of word limits. But just because you can write long, doesn’t mean you should.
Few viewers are going to be prepared to settle in and read your 2,000 word website, no matter how well-written or deep your expertise. Blame the lack of down time in our busy lives. Blame the decline of the written word. Blame our increasingly squirrel-like brains unable to focus on anything longer than 140 characters in length.
DeJong said your limit should be 500 words per page. You could even do a little less. This will force you to focus on the core mission of your business.
Remember, you aren’t limited to 400 words on your entire website – just the home page. If you do your job correctly- if you write compelling, informative, engaging content that hooks your potential customer- they’ll be willing to spend even more time on your website, browsing other pages, and learning even more about your business.
Want help with your website? Learn more at PropelWeb.