In a world where everything–including your competition–is just a click away, grabbing and keeping my attention is the first step to making me buy your stuff, subscribe to your content, or whatever else you want me to do. It’s also a part of the second step, the third step, and every other step when keeping me happy afterward. 

Thanks to clients who delay coming up with content and that wonderful Latin we all know so well, design and content is often separated. But this is a major disadvantage.

Graphic designers don’t design a product ad without good copyrighting, so why do web designers think they can design websites without good copywriting? While there may be some instances where writing the content and designing the interface cannot occur simultaneously, just as much emphasis should still be placed on making content accessible to an online audience.

So how do you do this?

Rule #1: Assume I’m in a hurry.

Always. Because as your visitor, whether or not I should be in a hurry, I am. If your site isn’t going to help me, then there’s approximately 1,458,987 more sites out there that might. So why would I spend more time on yours if it might not help?

This means:

Use headings. Lots of them, and make them good. I might not read your paragraphs, but I will probably at least glance at a heading or two to see what’s up. If your heading’s are good enough, I might even read your first sentence.

Write interesting topic sentences. Congratulations, your heading passed the test. The next thing I will likely check out is your topic sentences. So these sentences must be clear, interesting, and give a good idea of what’s in those paragraphs if you want me to read them.

Keep paragraphs short. While you might be able to get away with a page-long paragraph if you’re Tolkien, that doesn’t work on the internet. Us web-surfers have super short attention spans due to the massive amount of options out there, so don’t waste our time. Keep paragraphs to one solid idea and no longer than a few sentences.

Pick a tone, and stick with it. Because not only does your content need to be easily consumed, it must also be interesting. The photo-sharing site Flickr does an excellent job at this with their welcome messages which cycle through at each refresh:

G'Day

Rule #2: Assume I’m selfish.

I’m spending my time looking at your site, so make it worthwhile. I want to know what’s in it for me, so take every opportunity to let me know. I don’t want to hear how great your product is, I want to know what I can get out of it. I don’t want to hear how cool you are, I want to hear about me.

This means:

Talk about me. Not “We provide the best pogo sticks in the country,” but, “Experience the best pogo sticks in the country.” I don’t care about what you provide, I just care about what I can get. 

Be personal. If you know my name (which you should if I signed up for something), use it. Emotion is often lost during online communication, so add it back in with expressive language. Don’t preach at me, communicate with me.

Basically: Pretend you’re me.

In short, don’t believe that I’m going to think like you–you already think your product is awesome, but you’re going to have to convince me. Pretend you know nothing about yourself. Pretend you don’t care. Pretend you’re just a visitor.

That is who you’re trying to reach, isn’t it?