Never tell people what you're going to do for them on the Web. Just let them do what they came to do as quickly and simply as possible."Welcome to our website." What? I'm in a hurry. I don't want to pass meaningless pleasantries with your website. I don't want to shake its hand. Or talk about the weather. I'm at your website for a reason. I'm in a hurry. I'm impatient. So kill the welcome, please.
"It's really easy and quick to do blah blah blah on our website." If it's really easy, why are you telling me it's really easy and quick? For starters, you've wasted my time by making me read your meaningless sentence. Things that are genuinely easy don't require sentences telling you that they're easy.
When you go to Google, do you read a sentence saying: "It's really easy and quick to search using Google." No you don't. And the reason is that it IS really easy to search using Google. It's so easy that you hardly have to think about it. There's a big search box in the center of the screen. That's easy.
Links were invented so that we wouldn't have to say things like "on our website you will find …" So don't tell people about what they'll find, link to it! Don't have your website become a bore on a bar stool, extolling to his half-empty whiskey glass about all the things he's going to do for you.
Government websites are in danger of boring people to death because of two particular character flaws. The first is that many politicians can't help using government websites as campaign poster sites.
Big pictures of politicians on homepages. In an age of increasingly informed and empowered citizens, this juvenile propaganda is laughable and derisory. Does anybody actually believe that putting the picture of a politician on the homepage of a government website achieves anything other than making them look like a pre-digital laughing stock dinosaur?
The second flaw is that governments have this need to prove just how much of our taxes they're spending. If I come to a health website, I'm not interested in hearing about how much the government is investing in health. I want to solve a problem. If I can't, and you waste my time telling me about all that's being invested, that just makes me feel that you're wasting my time and my taxes.
One of the most important laws of getting elected is that you never tell people what you've done for them; you tell them what you're going to do for them. But a government website must be even more focused. It's the place where you let people do the things you told them you were going to do for them.
Nobody wants to read about your five year plan. Your website is a place for implementing that plan. Nobody wants to hear that you've just launched a new website, or that you've figured out how to do podcasting or videos.
I'm talking from experience here. I know how much effort goes into all these things. I know how excited the web team can get about all the shiny, new stuff. I know how hard it is to resist boasting about all that investment. Nobody cares.
Strip it all away and let people do.
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.