12 Surefire Best Practices for Formatting Website Copy

Properly formatting website copy makes your webpages easy to scan.

VISITORS COME TO YOUR WEBPAGE. BUT DO THEY ACTUALLY READ WHAT YOU WRITE? Probably not. More likely they scan the page—and this is where the art of formatting website copy is essential.

Users today take only seconds to decide if they think a webpage is worthwhile; If they don’t immediately think the page has what they’re looking for, it’s just so easy just to go back to the search page and pick the next entry.

RELATED READING: How Do Users Scan Content? (& Why You Should Care.)

Users are going to make four determinations as they make that stay-or-leave decision:

  1. What is this page about?
  2. Do I care about it?
  3. Where is the information I need?
  4. Is the content relevant and valuable?

Formatting Web Copy for the Way People Scan

When formatting website copy, be aware of user scanning patterns. Boston-based copywriter Westebbe Marketing
When formatting website copy, be aware of typical user scanning patterns.

They are going to do this by glancing down the page, left to right, and top to bottom. You have to make it quick and easy for visitors to answer these four questions, or they’ll bounce right off of your site. Your job as a writer is to make it easy for them to know the relevance and value of the page.

After scanning, if users stick around to slow down and read the page in more detail, make sure the copy itself is readable. Use simple language, avoid jargon, and keep sentences (and paragraphs short). Do this on every page, along with including plenty of internal links, and people will not only stay on the page, but explore more pages on the site.

RELATED READING: The 5 Most Important Rules to Increase the Readability of Your Blog Post

RELATED READING: How to Improve Website Stickiness: 5 Essential Copywriting Tips

Properly formatting website copy is good for SEO.

The added benefit of smart formatting is that search engines make page ranking decisions in part based on user experience (UX), as signaled by metrics such as bounce rates and session duration. If you can provide information that users request based on a particular search, you’ll get more visibility and more traffic—for more leads and customers.

Using best practices for formatting written content is good for people, good for SEO, and good for growing your business. If you’re looking for your webpages to get more traction, it’s time to read on!

1. Create an H1 tag.

Image Text: This is the H2 tag. Usually it has the same value as the page title. Boston-based copywriter Westebbe Marketing.
Use the H1 Tag for on-page titles to provide a concise description of the webpage

The H1 tag is the on-page title that visitors see–and is also important for SEO and social sharing. This is not the time for hype or being cutesy. Webpage H1 tags, should be simple and descriptive. The user shouldn’t have to guess what the page is about—it should be immediately apparent.

2. Open Up the Space.

Formatting website copy by increasing white space makes it easier for users to read and scan copy-heavy pages (most often found on technical sites). Opening up the copy makes it easier for visitors to understand content at-a-glance, find specific information, and give the the eyes a rest. There are many ways to create white space on the page to make it easy to scan and be more attractive. Many of the tips below help open up that space.

3. Write H2 Headers that clearly identify sub-topics.

Image Text: What is an H2 tag? An H1 tag is for your title. An H2 tag is a secondary header that you use to: (1) Emphasize secondary keywords; (2) Break up content to make it scannable and easy to read; (3) Highlight important pieces of information; (4) Saturate content with keywords. Boston-based copywriter, Westebbe Marketing
Place H2 tags at least every few paragraphs to define sections and improve readability.

Subheads range from H2 (main subheads) down to H6 (smallest subhead).These hierarchicalH2 headers are the most critical aspect of scanning. They’re almost like a table of contents for a book. You can see everything that’s included in the book and easily identify sections that are important to you.Each h2 paragraph should represent a discrete topic, without redundancy between sections.  Again, no fancy language.

4. Match paragraph copy to headers.

Each H2 section should have a fairly narrow focus, and the paragraphs underneath the heads should stick closely to the topic. Don’t go off on tangents, or repeat information in other sections.Keep paragraphs three to four sentences long, and don’t have more than several paragraphs under each heading. If your H2 section gets too long, try breaking it down into smaller sections.

5. Define smaller subtopics with H3-H6 Subheads.

If your H2 paragraphs run on and on, it might be a sign you need to re-organize the content—your H2 section may be too long or redundant. Another option is to use an H3 subhead to highlight discrete elements within the H2 section. I generally don’t go further down in the hierarchy than H3 or possibly H4.

6. Highlight points of interest with lists.

Make interesting points stand out with bullet points and numbered lists. They are a natural place for readers to stop and take a closer look at the details.

7. Add emphasis.

Italic and bold fonts also help people slow down because they indicate important words or sentences that the reader doesn’t want to miss. It can also make a sentence read differently in a person’s head, adding contrast and interest. You can use capitalization and colors in the same way. When you use any of these techniques, don’t go overboard or you risk having the reader jump around the page and get distracted.

8. Limit the number of fonts.

Using too many fonts decreases readability and consistency on the page. Any more than two or three fonts makes it hard to see the “hierarchy” of information on the page and just looks messy.

9. Leverage key scanning areas.

Image shows z-shaped webpage scanning pattern. Sanning starts at top-left (example: Logo); Step 2 of scan moves horizontally to the top-right (example: Sign-up CTA); Step3 is in the center of the page as  the eye shifts to the lower left (example: Image or simple copy); Step 4 moves diagonally down to the lower left (example: persuasive text); Step 5 moves horizontally across page to lower-right (example: Primary CTA). Boston-based copywriter Westebbe Marketing.
Proper website page formatting makes use of scanning patterns, such as this Z-shaped scan.

People generally scan from top to bottom, which is why we put important information above the fold. Similarly, people scan from left to right. Put keywords and important words near the beginning of the line if possible. It’s a subtle technique that can subconsciously help readers identify key information. In addition, don’t to extend your copy too far to the right, as it tends to get lost. Around 60 characters per line is a good guideline.

10. Use a larger font.

People will leave if the have to squint or zoom out copy to read a page. Try to use at least 16-point size for body copy. This is especially important for mobile display, as well as people who are older or have some vision loss. Make sure your font doesn’t appear “squished” together; if it does, you might need to choose a different font.

11. Increase spacing between lines.

When you’re tired or looking at a small screen, it’s hard to read if the lines don’t have enough vertical space between them (called leading). According to UX Planet, leading should be about 30% more than the character height for good readability.

12. On-page jump links.

No one loves endless scrolling. You can get lost in the copy, and it can make it difficult to find a previous section you want to return to. When working with a designer, or if you create pages on WordPress, you can use a jump link from one part of a page to another. Often, there will be a list of topics on the top of the page, and each has a link that lands on that section of the page.

Here are instructions for on-page jump links for WordPress.

Make It Easy To Scan to Retain Visitors.

When you successfully attract readers to your page, you want to keep them—not let them bounce. High-quality copy is the number one factor. And good formatting of that copy brings it to a higher level. It helps the majority of readers who start a page by scanning it, it makes pages more readable overall, and it is simply more attractive.

When you’re looking for a great website copywriter, ask about their style and take a look at how they design their own website. If you see mostly dense copy, without any of the items above to help people easily scan or read, it’s the sign of an inexperienced writer—or one that is unaware of how formatting can boost the usability of your website.  

For high-quality content that heightens the usability of your website,, contact Westebbe Marketing, a Boston-based agency specializing in high-performing original content. Contact us online, call us at (617) 699-4462, or email us.

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