Web Copywriting: a Technical Guide to Bullet & Dot Points
Wanna know a secret?
I have a hideous attention span. And I’m horribly impatient.
If you’re on the road, don’t drive slowly in front of me. But I’d like to think this short attention span makes me good at my job. I want to get to the point. And that’s why I love bullet point (aka dot points) so much because that’s what bullet points do – they get to the point, literally.
Plus, bullet points are easy to read.
And when you’re writing copy for the web, you want to make stuff easy to read (which is what this blog is about). And you want to fascinate your reader, compel and intrigue them (which is what next week’s blog is about).
Architectural/spatial rules on dot points
Let’s cover the fundamentals about the spatial and physical things to keep in mind– and note, below I’m using a number list, not bullet points:
1. Keep them symmetrical – where possible. Meaning: if one bullet point takes up several lines, keep the other points of a similar length. If it’s just a few words, ditto.
2. If you’re using WordPress (but sadly not Squarespace like me, here) go for a Fancy Unordered List and use pretty icons. They’re more aesthetically pleasing and provide more white space, so your points will stand out better.
3. Don’t clutter your bullet points. If they get too wordy or too long, and before you know it, you have sub-bullets or even subheaders, things start to get messy, which defeats the point. Keep it clean and simple.
4. I like to keep an uneven number of bullets or dot points. I prefer three or five, where possible because I think it looks more interesting. Keep a small number of bullets only.
5. Write your most valuable bullet points at the beginning and the end of the list, as people are more likely to remember these. (Okay, this tip is more about psychology, but it’s so important, you need to weave it into the architecture - especially for conversion copywriting.)
Use bullet points appropriately
Overused bullet points and they’ll lose their appeal. One of the beauties of bullet point is that you can break up boring chunks of text. Arguably, even interesting text is hard to absorb on webpages, so bullet points bring light relief, while also drawing the most important facts to your attention.
Start writing with a verb (get doing)
Action always liven things up, no? And it’s no different with web writing. Start with a verb and see how it makes things a little more punchy. For example:
With this landing page you can:
· sell the benefits
· convert more customers
· make more money
Leave out punctuation (we’re writing for the web)
There are all thoughts of style guides around online and in bookshops, but make sure you’re reading an up-to-date style guide made for the web. A style guide intended for a formal printed textbook, for example, may suggest punctuation and conjunction (connecting) words, but these can be messy online. You’ll have to adhere to your current style guide or if you’re a professional copywriter, adhere to your client’s style guide, but my preference is to keep things as bare as possible. It looks neater, cleaner. Take a look at the following.
To complete the on-page SEO, Sarah will need to:
· perform key phrase research,
· prepare the title tags amended descriptions,
· organise the headlines and sub-headline,
· write compelling copy, and
· finalise the internal link-building.
The complete the on-page SEO, Sarah will need to:
· perform key phrase research
· prepare the title tags amended descriptions
· organise the headlines and sub-headline
· write compelling copy
· finalise the internal link-building
Notice how the final example, there are no commas and no ‘and’ (connecting words)? Doesn’t it look cleaner? The first example may be more technically correct, but it looks a bit fuddy-duddy on the web. We don’t need the extra detail.
Oh, and about capitalisations. It’s up to you whether you choose upper case or lower case. I prefer lowercase for phrases which is ideal for bullet points on webpages.
Bottom line: whichever you choose, be consistent. Meaning, stick to the rules used on the other pages. Don’t have capitalised bullet for one page, and lower case on another.
For more on the subject, I recommend a fabulous book picked up years ago by world-renowned information architect Janice (Ginny) Redish, “Letting Go of the Words – Writing Web Content That Works” - second edition. Even though there hasn’t been a new edition in a few years, it still has a lot of great stuff.
Trim the fat
Remove any redundant words. Look through the list, and if you’ve used the same words each time then you can remove it. For example:
You’ll love this writing software because:
· it will make you write faster
· it will make you write better
· it will make you communicate more
You’ll love this product because it will make you:
· write faster
· write better
· communicate more
That was easier, wasn’t it?