Know your audience when writing web content

I’ve run our Writing for the Web (WFTW) workshop a number of times over the last few weeks, in Dublin, Edinburgh and Huddersfield. All three were excellent days, each taking its own natural course and ending up completely different to the suggested blueprint in the workbook.

Last week I was at the University of Huddersfield, running a workshop for members of their central marketing department and others responsible for web copy from around the University. Much of the morning was focussed on identifying and understanding the different audiences for the University website as well as for individual schools and services. We had interesting and revealing discussions about the information required by a particular audience, from overseas students to parents to staff, and the best way to communicate directly to them. As with so many tasks, it pays to spend some time planning before actually putting pen to paper (should or shouldn’t that be finger to keyboard?!) – if you know who you’re writing for and why, it sure does focus the mind and make writing that quality web content easier!

I always find I pick up excellent examples and ideas from attendees when running WFTW; it’s that kind of day. At first glance each could be overlooked or thought trivial, but undoubtedly highlight the need to give considered thought to both the target audience and the author’s intention when crafting content for the web.

First, one from someone who attended the workshop in Dublin. A well known low frills airline started off referring to “budget fares” but soon realised this wasn’t appealing to their audience. Obviously their intention is to sell tickets, but for this to be effective the customer needs to be enticed by the benefits to them. They soon made changes and “cheap flights” works so much better.

Second, an example from the Edinburgh workshop I ran for NHS National Services Scotland in November. During the afternoon, we examined the written content on a number of attendees’ sites, including the website for the Scottish National Blood Transfusion service. Again there were more interesting discussions highlighting the importance of considering your audience. For a blood transfusion service, who’s the patient? From the perspective of the donor it’s certainly not them – they’re giving blood to help ‘patients’!

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