Write well: follow the TurboTax example

In the 21st Century, the only sure things in life are death, taxes and writing for the web.

OK, so that’s probably a little strong. Might throw email in there, too. But what can doing your taxes teach you about writing for the web?

A lot, if you use something like TurboTax. If you’re not familiar with the product, it is a web-based application that walks you step by step through your taxes. The program asks questions and collects data in bite-sized pieces, essentially allowing many of us to click through our taxes in a weekend morning.

Bite Size Calls to Action
The key here — and the way it connects to your website — is the small, bite-sized pieces of information, with accompanying calls to action. For example: “Did you have charitable contributions in 2010?” Call to action: answer “yes” or “no.” Don’t read this and set out to make your website a complex application like TurboTax. Rather, appreciate the power and ease of use that small amounts of valuable, carefully written text and calls to action can provide — the less is more theory in action again.

If well-written, short pieces of information can make taxes survivable, just think what such simple, tidy text could do for your website.

Rather click than read
You can apply the TurboTax approach to pages on your website that contain valuable information tucked into large bodies of text. Rather than place all of that information on a single page, requiring all users to scan and hunt, break your information up into carefully written nuggets on individual pages. You can then reference those pages in an FAQ or A to Z or, preferably, a nice list of bullets under a couple tidy sentences.

Ask people to click rather than read. The only key here is that if you ask them to click, you have to deliver with valuable, thoughtful, and quick insights.

Another advantage of this is it allows you to have specific and individual urls to which you can direct users — this keeps you from sending your clients to your text-heavy monster of a page, with directions like “three-fourths of the way down, look to the right and you’ll see what you need.”

Not complicated
This isn’t fancy. See how the university’s web standards are broken into chunks. No fancy applications, dancing logos, drop-down menus or mouse-overs. Just tidy text in a list.  And if there’s a certain piece of valuable information in the standards, like Search Engine Optimization, you can simply send people there.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section on how you can apply the TurboTax approach to your website.