In the first few chapters of Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works by Janice Redish, the importance of the individual user is highlighted when it comes to web writing and design. This is not a new concept, since the audience is usually the focus of many communication techniques. Communicators must keep the audience (be it a listener, reader, viewer, or user) in mind if their message is to be successfully communicated.
Just like the thought that goes into writing a speech or filming a video, the intended audience’s needs, attitudes, emotions,and knowledge need to be carefully considered in regards to the subject matter of the message. The background of the general audience needs to be taken into account as well, like the age or gender of the audience. When it comes to writing for web sites, the analysis of the user audience becomes very specific. Many web content writers create several personas, complete with names, ages, family members, occupation, hobbies, interests, and geographic location. These personas are composites of the many characteristics of actual users gathered through forms and surveys.
When a web writer is trying to get inside the minds of the users and serve them efficiently, the home page of the web site is where the service and convenience must begin. Home pages give the first impression of the site to the user, and must accomplish several things:
- Identify the site and establish the brand
- Set the tone and personality of the site
- Assist people in starting tasks immediately
- Send each user efficiently in the right direction
In order to identify the site and establish the brand, the logo and name of the business or organization should appear at the top, along with a single phrase that summarizes what that organization is about. Visitors are unlikely to read a lenghty paragraph about the company’s mission and purpose. Along with the organization logo, the colors, graphics, font, and writing style all establish the site’s tone and personality. These should be consistent throughout the site and match the organization it is representing.
A home page must also assist people in starting tasks immediately and send users in the right direction for what they are looking for. This is accomplished with common-sense organization, short descriptions, and plenty of helpful links. For example, people have come to expect the search box to be in the top right corner of a site. If the search box is not located there and is hidden somewhere else, users are unlikely to look for it and will probably move on to another website. Any forms that the site may provide and users often look for should be located high up on the home page, so that the users do not have to spend much time looking. Links also need to be clear and helpful if the users are to know exactly which link will help them with their purpose.