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Content: Great web content needs traffic lights

May 25, 2016

Turning good content into great content

Web editors can learn a lot from this standard method of writing press adverts to ensure their web content gets read.

If you look at car adverts in Sunday magazines, it’s clear that they have all been subjected to the Traffic Light Test.

But it works just as well for the web content, and it’s something anyone can do. Here’s how

Web content rules

1: Mark out your content

To do the test, take your web content, and use three highlighter pens on it (you can do this in Microsoft Word, using the highlight tools).

  • If the content describes a benefit to the user, mark it in green.
  • If the content describes a feature, mark it in orange.
  • If the content describes neither a feature nor a benefit, mark it in red.

2: Red means stop

Scrap (or edit to reduce) anything that’s marked in red. It’s not necessary, it’s not giving information, and it just stops people from reading.

Typically, you can expect to lose up to 50% of your web content by doing this. But that’s a good thing, because nobody reads lots of text online. And you’re only getting rid of web content that turns the reader off.

3: Turn orange into green

Everything marked in orange is a feature. Why not change it into a benefit?

Here’s an example: imagine you’re writing about a car, and have to describe its emissions.

The car has a CO2 rating of 183g (combined urban/motorway figures).

That’s perfectly accurate, but is just describing a feature. It relies on the reader figuring out the benefit. Readers are lazy, so you need to do the work for them. Change your feature into a benefit by saying:

The car has low, tax-efficient, environmentally-friendly emissions.

Doesn’t that sound like a better car? It’s the same information, but now it speaks to the reader in a more effective and personal way. And it’s got actual benefits, rather than dull facts.

4: Green means go

The end result should be that your web content will be shorter and punchier. It’ll have (almost) nothing in red, and as few orange areas as possible. Basically, you’ve made every part of your web content into a benefit for the user, and removed anything that’s not necessary.

When it’s all (or predominantly) green, you can go ahead and publish.

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