Monday, October 29, 2007

Passive Voice Web Headings

Passive Voice Is Redeemed For Web Headings (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)

Active voice is best for most Web content, but using passive voice can let you front-load important keywords in headings, blurbs, and lead sentences. This enhances scannability and thus SEO effectiveness.

Traditional writing guidelines are clear on the use of passive voice:

  • Worst: The passive voice should be avoided.
  • Bad: The passive voice should be avoided by writers.
  • Better: Writers should avoid using passive voice.
  • Best: Writers should use active voice.
When structuring a sentence, active voice ("Actor does X to Object") is usually better than passive voice ("Object has X done to it by Actor") because it more directly represents the action. As a result, readers don't have to jump through as many cognitive hoops when trying to understand what's going on. . . . .

When Passive Voice = $$$

. . . recent findings from our eyetracking research emphasized the overwhelming importance of getting the first 2 words right, since that's often all users see when they scan Web pages. Given this, we have to bend the writing guidelines a bit, especially for elements that users fixate on when they scan — that is, headlines, subheads, summaries, captions, hypertext links, and bulleted lists.

Just like newspaper headlines

Selecting the first 2 words for your page titles is probably the highest-impact ROI-boosting design decision you make in a Web project. Front-loading important keywords trumps most other design considerations.

Writing the first 2 words of summaries runs a close second. Here, too, you might want to succumb to passive voice if it lets you pull key terms into the lead.

The importance of good page titles and summaries goes far beyond traditional search engine optimization (SEO) and its narrow focus on getting a high GYM rating (that is, a high ranking on Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft search listings). Usable and scannable results in your site's own search engine greatly impacts your website's conversion rate. And search usability is key for intranet productivity.

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Copyright © 2007 by Jakob Nielsen. ISSN 1548-5552


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