Writing for the Web

People tend to read online by skimming. Research shows that many don’t scroll past the first screen or past “the fold” which is the part of the page that is visible without scrolling. This can determine page design. That’s why our new sanfordhealth.org design offers many entry points into the website without forcing visitors to scroll for the information they need.

This also determines our content text which affects our search engine results, shareability on social media, and the general usefulness to patients and other users of our site. Make your web copy skimmable with short sentences, small blocks of text, subheadings, bullet points and numbered lists.

In other words, get right to the point to make clear what the page is about and what you want the reader to do. Here’s how:

Write for People – and for Google

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, capitalizes on the terms people are searching for and makes our website a top result in their search. We research what keywords people are using in their searches and find ways to place them on our site in important areas such as web addresses, headlines and first paragraphs.

Write in Patient-first Language

Tell the reader about the benefit to them. Include a clear call-to-action. No one enjoys a conversation with someone who only talks about themselves.

  • Good example: At Sanford Health, you have access to a team of experienced providers ready to make a care plan that fits you. You’ll find compassionate care combined with the latest treatments and techniques. Make an appointment today.
  • Bad example: Sanford Health has the largest team of experienced, board-certified providers in the region with state-of-the-art technology and millions of dollars in improvements to facilities. Sanford staff is ready to help you with registration and scheduling appointments.

Use Active Voice

Speak directly to the patient and use energetic verbs to keep the reader’s attention. 

  • Good examples: She treats patients. We offer medical services. You find care. 
  • Bad examples: Patients are treated. Medical services are offered. Care is found.

Write at a 7th-Grade Level

When in doubt, find a similar word with fewer syllables. Translate medical jargon into everyday conversational language. Spell out most acronyms. (See Associated Press Stylebook for exceptions.) If someone outside the medical profession would wonder what a word or phrase means, find another way to say it. You can be informational without sounding like a textbook.

  • Good examples: high blood pressure, lab work, diabetes, showing symptoms, older adults
  • Bad examples: hypertension, specimen collection, diabetes mellitus, presenting with symptoms, geriatrics

Web pages should contain a minimum of 150 to 250 words (for search engines) and should focus on one topic. Avoid long pages. Each paragraph should contain no more than five sentences; try to keep the sentences fairly short. Break up the text using bullets, subheads, etc.

Use Short Sentences

Aim to keep most sentences to 104 characters or less. Write one idea per sentence and split longer sentences into two or more. We communicate one idea per sentence for maximum readability – a quality that’s especially important for health information.

Be brief and to the point when writing for the web; avoid unnecessary words.

Avoid direct references such as:

  • Click here
  • Below
  • To the right
  • The graphic on the left
  • This page
  • This chapter

Bottom Line

People are more likely to read your web content if it is authentic, brief, clear, relevant, useful, credible, scannable and friendly. Once you’ve hit those marks, stop what you’re doing and push the “Publish” button.

If you want to convert people with your content, do all of the above, plus craft well-designed conversion elements and position them smartly on the page. Avoid promotional writing and small talk – readers will scan right to the information they need. Separate informational and promotional content visually and use the new sanfordhealth.org design elements to make your content work best for your readers.