Bite-sized is best: the importance of smaller paragraphs


Sweets and website content are best served in bite-sized portions.

Cake pops. Brownie bites. M&M minis. These small sweets are both cute and bite-sized, which makes them fun and easy to eat. Hungry yet?

Your content should be in bite-sized portions as well. Breaking up paragraphs makes it easier to read and will help increase your retention rates.

The rule that a paragraph must contain at least three sentences doesn’t apply in web writing. Smaller paragraphs will help you get straight to the point, making it easier for your audience to understand your message.


To do:

Look at your analytics and find your 10 most visited articles. Do you have large blocks of text, or short paragraphs with a lot of white space?

If you chose the first answer, you have some room for improvement. Fortunately, you won’t have to change any of the words to make it easier to read. Go into the edit mode and experiment with breaking up the long paragraphs. Try doubling the number of paragraphs and see how it turns out.

Of course, the paragraph breaks still need to make sense – you shouldn’t break up ideas or thoughts in the middle of an explanation. Hopefully you’ll find that you can use them to your advantage to emphasize certain points you’re trying to make.

Once you’ve gotten a handle on breaking up paragraphs, implement this tactic in your other sections of the website if you have time. At the very least, remember this tip and commit to breaking up your future content into bite-sized pieces.

(Note: If you’re nervous to try this out on your most visited articles, you can try it first with your least visited pages. The purpose of editing your most visited content is because you want people to see your best work.)

How to improve the necessary evil of forms


Don’t turn away potential subscribers, donors, or volunteers with long forms.

Have you ever adopted a pet? Or attempted to? You might be really excited to adopt a pet, but once you start filling out all the forms you may question why you decided to go this route instead of just going to a pet store.

You don’t want this to happen to your website visitors. If they are about to sign up for an event, download a resource, or donate, the last thing you want is for them to second guess why they’re about to take action and leave your page before they’re done filling out the form.


To do:

  • Reduce the number of fields to the absolute minimum. For email sign-up forms, don’t include more than three fields. The more fields you have, the less likely people will fill them out. Make sure you actually use all the information you collect. If you don’t use it, get rid of the field.
  • Keep the number of optional fields to a minimum, and eliminate them altogether if you can. It doesn’t always register that there are optional fields – people see a long form and dread having to fill it out, even if half of it is optional.
  • If some fields are required and others are optional, make sure the required fields are clearly marked.
  • Consider asking for additional information after someone signs up. For example, if you’d like to segment your e-newsletter by interest, ask about their interests in an automatic email after they’ve subscribed.
  • Embed forms within your articles and announcements if possible. For example, if you’re announcing an event, embed the registration form at the end of the page. This reduces the number of steps to taking action.

PDFs are killing your reputation


If you write a report and no one reads it, what is the point of writing it?

Almost one third of PDF reports produced by the World Bank have never been downloaded. Another 40% have been downloaded fewer than 100 times.

This Washington Post article suggests that “the solutions to all our problems may be buried in PDFs that nobody reads.”

And don’t think for a second that you’re the exception.

PDFs are not very web-friendly. Their purpose is to retain formatting (mainly for printing), and they can be a useful tool to bridge the offline and online worlds. However, their usefulness has serious limitations, especially as more people access the web through their mobile devices.

PDFs make it hard for visitors to search for information and aren’t very SEO-friendly. People using mobile devices or tablets will have to download the PDF before they can view the information – a task that many are unwilling to do even  on their desktop.

That means that the resources spent researching, organizing, writing, and formatting information for PDF documents are largely going to waste. If you write a report and no one reads it, what is the point of writing it?

When you write a report you may have a vision that the information will help people solve problems. The truth is, the information is hidden away like the change in your couch cushions. Information in a report that you think will make an impact and be shared widely among your networks will likely go unnoticed.

If your organization uses PDFs, you also need to use other ways to share the information.


To do:

Think: Why do you use PDFs on your site?

If the main purpose of using PDFs is so people can print information and tools (such as activities, agendas, worksheets, etc.), PDFs can still be a good option because you’re using them for the purpose they were designed for. However, you need to make sure that you have a good description of the document so your visitors understand what kind of resource they’re downloading. For large files, it also helps to include a few highlights from the document on the download page.

Another option is to eliminate the PDF and have your information only available as articles on your site. Work with your web developer to help format your pages for printing so you can remove things like the sidebar or the navigation for a clean print version.

If you decide to continue using PDfs, you need to have a way for people to preview the documents so they know what they’re downloading. I recommend using Scribd to upload your PDFs and then embed the documents into your website.

For reports, you should get a little creative about presenting the information so that it’s easily digestible and shareable. You can still have the PDF available to download in case people want to print the information or access the full report, but you’ll get much more traction if you format the information in a different way. Here are some ideas for other ways you can share information from your reports:

Your forms deserve better than “submit”


When your audience is ready to take action, give them a gentle reminder of what’s at the end of the tunnel.

Don’t you hate it when you’re looking for something in your house and the moment you walk into another room, you forget what you were looking for?

This can happen when you’re signing up for something online as well. Filling out forms can feel a little invasive, and by the end you may be thinking, “Why am I giving away my email address, zip code, and place of employment again?”

Of course, you don’t want this to happen when someone is signing up for one of your events or filling out a donation form. One way to get people to finish filling out your forms is to have a strong call to action, even in this final step.


To do:

Of course, you need good website copy and a visible privacy policy. But what’s often overlooked is the “submit” button. Instead of saying “sign up,” “submit,” or “download,” tell them what they’re downloading or signing up for. Try something like “send me resources,” “download the report,” “be a mentor,” “join the community,” or “donate supplies.”

These buttons naturally stand out from the rest of the text, so don’t waste this opportunity to tell your visitors why they should give you their information.

Making it easy for your audience to take action


Without the gate, my bunnies would be running around the house. What barriers are keeping your audience from taking action?

I have two bunnies that roam around the house all day while I’m working. I don’t want them to go into my bedroom because they have chewed through more cell phone chargers than I care to count. So I put up a doggy gate to keep them in the living room area. They could jump the gate if they wanted to, and once in a while they do. But for the most part, it’s too much effort and they’re content enough in the living room. However, if I removed the gate, the bunnies would be running around all over the house in no time!

I think a lot of us are like that – we’re generally content where we are, but if a few barriers were removed we’d gladly take the opportunity to do something else.

On your website, there are a lot of potential barriers preventing people from completing various tasks. Small changes can have a big impact on retention and form completion rates.


To do:

Take a look at your website and imagine that you are visiting it for the first time. If you have a hard time pretending you aren’t familiar with the site, have someone else help you out with this task. As you explore the site, think about potential barriers visitors may encounter to:

  • Find out information about your programs
  • Share pages via social media, email, and print
  • Register for events
  • Donate
  • Sign up for the e-mail list
  • Contact your staff with specific questions
  • Access important documents and information
  • Search for something they need

In your analytics, look at your top exit pages. If your donation and/or registration pages are on the top of the list, you definitely need to make some changes now.

Write down the potential barriers people might encounter such as long sign-up forms, lack of detailed information, or buried content.

Choose two or three barriers to address now and make a plan for tackling the rest.

Here are some ideas:

  • Be clear about how much time it will take to complete a task. Be honest, because if you say something will take 5 minutes and it actually takes 10, people will not be happy that it took more time than they had planned for.
  • Reduce the number of fields you use in your forms. Even if most of the information isn’t required, a long form will turn people away.
  • Make information in PDF documents easily accessible.
  • Include a short introductory video to explain what your organization does and how to use tools on your website.
  • Have multiple ways for people to contact you, and make contact information easy to find.
  • Make sure your layout is printer-friendly (you may need to work with your web designer to make adjustments).
  • Add “share” buttons (try tools like AddThis or Sumome).

Your homepage is old news. Here’s what you can do about it.

Entering through the front door of a house is similar to entering through the homepage on a website. Nowadays, more visitors likely come to your site through other pages so you need to plan for it.

Entering through the front door of a house is similar to entering through the homepage on a website. Nowadays, more visitors likely come to your site through other pages so you need to plan for it.

Imagine if you threw a party at your house and your guests came in through windows, the basement, the porch door, and the garage door as well as through the front door. It would probably catch you off-guard, but the guests may also be a little disoriented and not know where to go.

This may be what’s happening with your website visitors. Nowadays, a lot of people may be following links on social media or other websites to get to your site. Many of those links point to a specific article or resource instead of your homepage. It’s more important than ever that your visitors know how to find information on your site, no matter which page they visit first.


To do:

Review your analytics and see which pages are your top “landing pages.” These are the pages on your website that your visitors see first. Your homepage will likely be at the top of the list, but you may also have a few others that are popular landing pages as well. Take a look at the top five, not including the homepage. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Will visitors understand the context of the content? For example, if it’s a “step 8” in a series of 10 steps, will they know that they should also check out previous steps before working on number 8?
  • Will visitors be able to easily find information about your organization from that page?
  • Is there a clear call to action?


Here are some suggestions to improve your landing pages:

  • Add an introduction to the page that gives context.
  • Use breadcrumbs to help visitors understand where they are on the website.
  • Link to related content. For example, if there are 10 steps, have clear links to the previous and next steps. Or, point them to more resources or articles in that category.
  • Use the “related content” feature in AddThis to automatically suggest another article.
  • Add information about your organization in the footer so visitors can understand what your organization is about no matter which page they are on.
  • Make sure the call to action is clear and not tucked away in a sidebar or on another page.

Too much of a good thing: How to prevent content overload

People are busy. Highlight your best content so you don't overwhelm website visitors.

People are busy. Highlight your best content so you don’t overwhelm website visitors.

Which seems less daunting:

“See our 10 most popular blog posts”

–or –

“See all of our 1,698 blog posts”


Let me guess. You chose the first one, right?

People are busy and they want information that’s helpful. Reading through a list of 10 blog posts is going to take much less time than sifting through 1,698 of them. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to archive most of your posts or reduce the frequency of your posts. If you highlight your best work, you can still keep your library of content without overwhelming your visitors.

Hopefully by now you’ve identified what kind of content is “evergreen” and “time-sensitive” and a plan for archiving the time-sensitive pieces (if not, you have a little work to do to catch up, but that’s ok – you’ll get there!).

You may have some categories of evergreen content that has a lot of resources or articles in it. In this case, it’s important to highlight the most recent and/or most popular pieces of content so visitors don’t have to sort through a long list.

For example, let’s say you offer classroom activities to improve early childhood development and every year you add 20 new activities. At this rate, the list will get long very quickly. Arranging them by date or in alphabetical order will help keep the activities organized, but it can still be overwhelming to sort through so many activities. To help out your visitors, at the top of the page showcase your five most popular activities, or highlight the two most recent ones.


To do:

You have several options to make it easier for your website visitors to navigate long lists of content:

  • Highlight the most recently added resources or articles at the top of the list
  • Highlight the most popular resources or articles at the top of the list (look in your analytics to find out which content is most popular)
  • Create a hybrid of “featured” resources or articles that includes a few of your most popular pieces of content, as well as some that were recently added.
  • Write a blog post of your top 5 or 10 most popular resources in a particular category
  • Create multiple ways to sort your content

Note: Besides writing a blog post to highlight your top articles, you will likely have to work with your web designer to implement the rest of the suggestions. These will be relatively small changes that will make a big improvement in your site, and are worth the investment! Plus, if you have your web designer help you with the changes, it will help save a lot of time in the future because the feature will be built in to your content management system.

Warning: You may be turning people away before you talk to them

If your contact information includes an “info” email address, a contact form, and/or a phone number that takes people through multiple prompts before reaching a real person, you’re likely turning people away.

If your contact information includes an “info” email address, a contact form, and/or a phone number with multiple prompts, you’re likely turning people away.

“Hello. You’ve reached the Wildlife Conservatory. Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed. For hours, press 1. For directions, press 2. For volunteer opportunities, press 3. For information on photography permits, press 4. For special events, press 5. For all other inquiries, treat yourself to an ice cream cone because you’ll be much happier than being on hold for 40 minutes listening to a 30-second clip of elevator music on repeat.”

I hate those menu options too. They drive me nuts.

If your contact information includes an “info” email address, a contact form, and/or a phone number that takes people through multiple prompts before reaching a real person, you’re likely turning people away.

People don’t trust “info” email addresses and contact forms because they don’t think they’re sending an email to a real person. Often, they’d rather leave the site than spend their time writing a message that they think will never be read or responded to.

Similarly with a phone number that leads people through multiple prompts, I can’t think of anyone who’d rather listen to those prompts than talk to a real person. Even if they stick it out through the prompts, they may be annoyed by the time they talk to someone at your organization. This is not the first impression you want them to have.


To do:

For your email address, you have several options:

  1. If there is one person who answers the emails that go to your “info” email address, put their email on your “Contact us” page instead. People are more likely to trust an email that’s going to “” than “”
  2. If you have multiple people checking the “info” email address or contact form submissions, it may not make sense to change it to one person’s email. On your contact page, reassure them that someone will reply to their email and let them know how quickly they can expect a reply.
  3. Include contact information for specific requests such as media inquiries, information about your services, and volunteer opportunities. Your audience will be happy to send an email directly to the appropriate person. This also reduces the amount of emails to the “info” address that need to be sorted through. Make the “info” email address available as a last resort if their request doesn’t fall neatly into the main categories.

For your phone prompts, take a look at your call volume and types of inquiries you receive. Review these questions:

How many calls do you receive on a daily basis? If you receive a significant number of calls, it’s likely worth it to have prerecorded messages for your frequently asked questions and/or prompts to send callers directly to the staff person who can answer certain questions. If you only receive a few calls per day, you might consider eliminating the prompts and assign one person to answer calls.

For prerecorded messages, do you update them on a regular basis? If not, you may be confusing your callers. Either make sure someone is assigned to update the recordings frequently, or eliminate the recordings altogether.

Can you consolidate any of your prompts? For example, the hours, location, and parking information could likely be one message.

Are there any prompts you should eliminate? For example, if you have a prerecorded message for volunteer opportunities, you’re missing the chance to connect with potential volunteers one-on-one and find a project that meets their skills and interests. Or let’s say you have a prerecorded message with information about photography permits, but you still get a lot of people who want to speak to a live person about that topic. Perhaps your message doesn’t have enough information, or it might be a topic that people need to ask specific questions which requires talking to an actual person.

Do you need to include the sentence, “Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed”? Do the same people call so frequently that they actually have your menu options memorized? If not, this explanation may not be necessary.

Why you shouldn’t blend social media icons with your site design


Make sure your social media icons stand out – not blend in – so they’re easy to find.

“We created these beautiful social media icons that blend in with the design of our site, but we hardly get any new followers :(”

What do you think is going on in this scenario? Take a look at the above sentence again. Anything catch your attention?

…blend in.

If you want people to see something, it needs to stand out! While icons that are small or that blend in with the site will look aesthetically pleasing, you won’t be achieving your goal of getting more followers. People are used to seeing the icons, and may even be looking for them. So make sure they’re easy to find!


To do:

  • Make sure your social media icons are clearly visible at the top of your page, as well as in the footer.
  • Get a widget (like AddThis) that floats your social media icons at the top of the page as the user scrolls down.
  • Increase the size of the social media icons (to a reasonable size, of course – you still don’t want to be obnoxious!).
  • Make sure there is plenty of white space around the icons so they are easily visible and don’t get drowned out by clutter on the rest of your site.
  • If your social media icons blend in with the design of your site, switch them to icons that use the traditional colors instead (e.g. blue for Facebook, red for Pinterest, etc.).