Chapter 9: Website Design-Composing for the Web and Effectively Utilizing Social Media

Technical writing and workplace communication requires writers to communicate information in different modes. These modes can include websites, brochures, instructions, fliers, and many others.  Daniel Riordan, in Technical Report Writing Today, reports that “[t]he web is one of the primary means of communication today (2005, p. 322). Riordan adds that “[m]illions of people use it everyday to find information, to purchase items, and to entertain themselves (2005, p. 322). A single website can be information that is organized on one page or a single website can be information that is organized over several pages (Riordan, 2005). Regardless of the amount information on a website, the web design needs to give the reader clear and easy access to information. As Riordan emphasizes, unlike traditional documents in which a reader progresses through following a structured path from the beginning to the end, a website can be viewed in many different patterns. After reaching a Website’s home page, a reader can navigate the site in many different directions (2005). Therefore, special attention needs to be given to layout since each web mode does not have the traditional sub categories (Riordan, 2005):

Figure 1: Traditional Hierarchical Structure, by Daniel Riordan
Figure 2: Traditional Web Structure, by Daniel Riordan

In addition, more than the design of any other document, a web design needs to pay careful attention to addressing a cross-cultural audience since a website is not limited to specific space. Therefore, make sure to avoid using informal word choice and vague pronouns.


Before designing a website, it is important for the developers to set goals. The website’s visitors will evaluate the website’s design based on the company’s ability to achieve these goals; so, the visitors should be able to easily discern the websites purpose. Not all sites serve the same purpose. For example, a retail site will have significantly different goals than a nonprofit site.

Some common website goals are:

  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • Updated Information
  • Generate Leads
  • Distribute Information

Goals, in any setting, are important to business success. By setting goals for one aspect of the business, in this case, the website, it will help in accomplishing other goals of the business, such as:

  • Expanding the audience
  • Increasing sales
  • Connecting other businesses or other parts of the company
  • General communication

Design Message

The design message is the image the organization wants to portray to the reader. This can also be called the brand. Website creators must consider logos, colors, fonts, and images. These must all support the personality of the organization.

Communicating the brand is something that is becoming more prevalent in the workplace.

Consistency is needed everywhere within a business so that the company can portray a unified front–and believe in it. Giving web pages a consistent look will help define it as a cohesive website and will make it easier to navigate. Since companies are building their workplaces around the “theme” or the “brand”, there is no reason that the website should not be done in the same manner. In fact, it is necessary for brand identification, therefore helping the company advance and succeed. A consistent brand and image also build trust and value for a company.

Some important items to consider when communicating the brand are:

  • The brand, whether communicated through the website or the customer service, must be consistent
  • The brand should be found everywhere–there are no limits to exposure of brands
  • The content should be short and simple is always the best route
  • The brand represents your. You are the brand and the brand is you. If your brand does not reflect the values and beliefs of the company, it most certainly should not be on your website.

Examining the Site’s Purpose

Figuring out how the site will be used in another important step in website design. Those who use the internet usually fall into two categories:

  • those who seek information
  • those who search the internet for entertainment

For the informational sites, the creators may want to consider the technology of the client or use more general approach in design. For the sites of those seeking entertainment, more cutting-edge technology can be used to better the experience of the user when they are accessing your site.

Adapted from two chapters:  “Module 6: Websites” from Technical Writing and “Website Design” provided by WikiBooks located at Project: Professional and Technical Writing. CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike.

Website Design Considerations

Writing for the web is a unique experience that requires you to think about many aspects of the rhetorical situation. You must ask: What is your purpose? Who is your primary audience(s)? What do they expect from the document? Understanding the creation process for a website will help you understand website design and help you evaluate websites, which we will do this semester. This chapter from Technical Writing will outline the key aspects for web design.


Usability is defined as the ease of using the website. This could be for the intended audience of the website, or it could be determined by the industry or business standards needed for websites. Usability of websites has gone through different definition changes with the evolution of the internet. In its early years, many people did not know how to navigate through websites or read the information provided. This made the website unusable. Now, people look for the easiest possible access to whatever information is needed.

Usability Means Communication

Websites are a form of visual communication, serving multiple purposes. Websites can be informative, persuasive, long-term, advertising, or entertaining. Usability is determined based on the goals of the website.

If the website accomplishes its goals and communicates the necessary messages, it can, therefore, be considered usable.


Appearance should be aesthetically pleasing while also being easy to navigate. Tasks (what the user has come to this page looking for, such as an email address or information about an event) that are most important and or most commonly sought should be the main focal points of a web page. Whether it be certain colors driving that importance, or size, or placement on the page, even directional line guiding the user to that point, the important tasks must not become secondary. In other words, the focal point(s) should stand out more, not become secondary to an image or a background. Everything on your site should have a purpose, a reason for being where it is and looking the way it does.

Pictures and colors are important and interesting, but far less important than the content. This is true for any web page. The user must not get confused upon entrance to a site. They should know where they need to click (and understand what will come from that click) and not be distracted by images. Unless it’s intended, images should be minimal and only help PUSH the contents importance, not overwhelm the page. As such, it is the web designers job to make sure that doesn’t happen. The content should be seen first, images second or third.


Visibility could be considered the most important aspect of website design. People must first find the website before they can view it. Most often people find websites through search engines.

Here are some tips to increase visibility:

  • Add text to pictures
  • Check the html code for errors
  • Use relevant title tags
  • Use navigation that all internet users are able to view
  • Get rid of duplicate content
  • Do not use hidden text


The layout of a website should be as simple as possible. Extra fluff will only distract the user and cause confusion. You want your site to be visually pleasing, but first and foremost, understandable. The user is at your site for a reason, if the layout isn’t successful, the user will most likely leave the page and look for their information elsewhere.

Page Design

You can enhance readability by giving some thought to the design of your documents. By using headers, lists, bullets, and other design elements, you can reveal your organization to the reader and emphasize key points. Below are page design guidelines you should consider when writing print or online documents. Your design can underscore your message. Be sure to consider these guidelines in the context of design principles.

Design Pages to Facilitate Scanning

According to usability research conducted by Sun Microsystems, “Seventy-nine percent of Web users scan pages; they do not read word-by-word.” This finding suggests that you should design documents so they can be scanned by your readers.

You can create more scannable documents by:

  1. Following a deductive organization (i.e., putting purpose, significance, and results in your introduction).
  2. Using page-design principles to emphasize the message and organization (e.g., using bullets, lists, and illustrations to highlight key points).

Use Design Elements to Highlight Your Message

In the example below, notice how your eye is drawn to the blue header and the boxed elements. In these spaces, you can highlight the important part of your message.

Figure 3: Visual Example of How to Use Design Elements to Highlight Your Message


For some genres of documents, headings would be considered too impersonal or too technical. For example, you certainly don’t want to see headings and bullets used in a suspense novel. Increasingly, however, headings are used to help readers scan documents. Even vague headings like Introduction, Results, and Discussion can be useful: They give readers a sense of what is covered within the section. Better yet, descriptive titles cue your readers about your stance on the content of sections. For example, rather than Introduction, Results, and Discussion, you could write “Why Are Headings Important.”

As previously discussed, highly skilled readers tend to scan through documents on first reading, noting the content of your headings. This gives them a sense of your overall message. An additional advantage of headings is that they create additional white space.

Results from readability research indicate that readers have difficulties with more than three levels of headings. When you use more than three levels of headings, readers become confused. Also ensure that all of your headings are equal grammatically. For example, headings can all be questions, verb phrases, or noun phrases, yet you cannot mix together questions, verb phrases and noun phrases.

Level 1 Heading

Level 2 Heading

Level 3 Heading

  • Bullets

Many readers and writers love bullets. Some people even claim they think in bullets. Bullets create emphasis. They focus the reader’s eye on the bulleted material and they break up textual space.

Below is a humorous translation from Moby Dick to illustrate the “get to the point” technical style of the Web to literary discourse:

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

I go to sea when I:

  • Feel depressed or melancholy
  • Stop in front of coffin warehouses
  • Follow funerals
  • Have a powerful urge to knock people’s hats off

Source: Moby Dick by Herman Melville Source: This example is adapted from Kathy Henning’s Writing for Readers Who Scan

Table 1: Example of How to Summarize for the Web Using Moby Dick


Lists share all of the positive attributes of bullets: They create the white space readers love, placing emphasis by drawing the reader’s eye to what you want to highlight. Yet lists are appropriate when a series of steps is being presented. Unlike bullets, lists imply you complete item 1 before moving on to item 2.

Using lists and numbering sections of documents is common in legal and technical genres where more than one person is writing the document or where litigation may follow.

Adapted from two chapters:  “Module 6: Websites” from Technical Writing and “Website Design” provided by WikiBooks located at Project: Professional and Technical Writing. CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike.

Social Media and Website Design

What Are Social Media?

Social media are online communications platforms that allow people to share content. These platforms live on the internet and follow many of the website design principles introduced earlier. The phrase social media typically brings to mind sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn; however, there are many other forms of social media where people share photos, text, videos, podcasts, music, discussions, and ideas. Social media also includes a range of professional communication forums, online review sites (for example, Yelp and Rotten Tomatoes), and microblogging (for example, Twitter).

Social media have increasingly become everyday communication tools that follow their own website design principles. Many brands use social media to leverage their marketing and public relations efforts. Specifically, organizations can use social media to enhance brand awareness, roll out promotions, and build website traffic. Social media also provides opportunities to develop relationships with audiences through engagement and key messaging. Valentini and Kruckeberg (2012) note that “social media provide a relatively inexpensive means to communicate with, and, more importantly, to enter into a dialogue with strategic publics” (p. 11).

Social Media Characteristics

Several characteristics make social media a unique communication tool. First, social media users are content creators. People can create their own blogs, write a Facebook or Twitter post expressing their thoughts on an issue, or post a video blog (“vlog”) about their latest travel adventures on YouTube. This enables users to be active participants in the communication process. Audiences are often more engaged with brand messages on these platforms because they can provide feedback to companies, creating a two-way conversation.

Another characteristic of social media is instant communication. Audiences do not have to wait until scheduled news broadcasts to receive information because reporters and media outlets can bring the news directly to social media platforms. Furthermore, people can easily share and post news content on their networks. Social media also fosters a sense of interconnectedness and community by bringing people across the globe together online. Those living in the United States can easily interact with those living in Australia. Valentini and Kruckeberg (2012) write that social media could not exist without their users, given that the interactivity characteristics create a community feeling. As noted by Green (2012): “Social media [provide] the means by which clusters of like-minded individuals can easily swap ideas and scrutinize data on public matters” (para. 4).

Adapted from chapters “What Are Social Media?” and “Social Media Characteristics”  from Writing for Strategic Communication Industries by Jasmine Roberts and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

The Impact of Social Media

Marketers use social media to enhance traditional efforts such as direct mail fliers and television advertisements. Social media also enable marketers to create interactive content for audiences. In the public relations field, social media gives professionals easier access to journalists and news media outlets. For example, it is becoming common for public relations professionals to reach out to reporters via Twitter.

In many ways, social media have made it easier for consumers to hold organizations, public figures, and large institutions accountable (Green, 2012). Users can easily find and reveal information about a previous event involving an organization, whether it was advantageous or damaging to the brand. Users can also provide instant public feedback by voicing their opinions via social media networks. Furthermore, social media have made it challenging for many organizations to control their brand and present a consistent message across platforms because different audiences can generate information that can be damaging to a brand’s reputation. Take a look at this video from Sherry Lloyd, social media and marketing manager for Vineyard Columbus, who discusses brand management and the challenges of controlling a company’s identity in the social media age.


In-Depth Look at a Career in Brand Management with Sherry Lloyd

Many campaigns effectively use social media to produce beneficial effects. In 2011, KFC created a public relations campaign aimed at strengthening its relationship with young consumers and enhancing its brand reputation. The campaign launched a contest that awarded a $20,000 scholarship to an individual with the best tweet using the hashtag #KFCScholar. The contest generated more than 1,000 media placements, 2,800 applications, and a 20 percent increase in KFC’s following on Twitter (Black, 2011). This example demonstrates the utility of using social media to create reputation and relationship management campaigns.

Figure 4: Winning tweet from KFC scholarship contest in 2011.

Factors to Consider Before Posting

Identify the message’s goal

Like creating a website message, creating a social media message requires that you begin with a goal. A social media message that does not have a specific goal is counterproductive because it draws attention without a clear purpose. Furthermore, social media message goals should reflect the organization’s overall mission. Message goals can include increasing brand awareness, creating a favorable perception of an organization, and convincing the audience to buy a product. The goal should be clearly articulated in the content. Also, select the social media platform that would be the most effective in accomplishing the message goal. Each social media tool has specific characteristics and audiences, which will affect whether the message goals are achieved.

Identify the target audience

Similar to public relations writing, social media messages need to be targeted. After identifying the key audience, examine what they’re focusing on: their interests, attitudes, and beliefs. Social media content should reflect audience analysis research findings. As you tailor the content of the message to this audience, do not exaggerate attempts to be interesting or relevant. Because social media messages are audience centered, they’re not necessarily grounded in what you personally think is appealing.

The lack of attention to audience analysis can have serious consequences. One example is IHOP’s Twitter controversy in 2015. In an attempt to reach a young audience and produce attention-grabbing content, IHOP tweeted about its pancakes, making a provocative comment that compared them to a woman with small breasts: “Flat but has a GREAT personality.” Audiences quickly reacted with outrage, causing the company to issue an apology.

A more recent example can be found in the case of social media influencer, Logan Paul, who was the center of a public outcry in response to a video he posted while on a trip to Japan. Paul specifically filmed his visit to Aokigahara, a forest and location known for its high suicide rates. The video appeared to show the body of a deceased individual. He posted the video on his YouTube channel and clips of it later surfaced on Twitter, gaining more than 100,000 retweets and a swift negative response from the public. Although Paul apologized for the insensitive nature of the video and temporarily suspended his vlog, the negative impact of this crisis on his reputation largely remained. Some companies even pulled their advertisements from his YouTube Channel.

These mishaps demonstrate the need for careful message and audience analysis. They also reinforce the point that although you may react favorably to a message, your target audience may not. Curating information you share on social media requires many of the same thoughtful design principles addressed in the Website Design chapter.

Identify the organization’s social media approach

Communication choices should reflect organizational strategies. Wilson et al. (2011) identified four general ways in which companies use social media. They are determined by the “company’s tolerance for uncertain outcomes and the level of results sought” (para. 2).

The “predictive practitioner” approach uses caution when sending out social media messages. Instead of launching a social media strategy that involves all departments in a company, only a specific department (example: marketing or human resources) uses its social media platforms. This allows more control of social media messaging and guarantees some level of certainty in accomplishing the stated objectives.

The “creative experimenter” approach accepts uncertainty and deploys small social media “experiments” to learn and improve overall business functions. Sometimes, businesses will take to Facebook or Twitter to receive feedback on products or business practices from internal (example: employees) or external (example: customers) audiences. The overall goal is to listen and learn from interactions; therefore, unpredictable results are accepted.

The “social media champion” approach takes strategies to a more advanced level. A designated team is in charge of the organization’s overall social media presence. The team also creates an official social media policy and guidelines for the organization. Larger social media projects typically use this strategy. Unlike the predictive practitioner strategy, this approach does not confine social media use to a particular department and considers social media messages across various functions.

The “social media transformer” strategy targets both internal and external audiences by launching large-scale projects that involve multiple departments. As with the social media champion approach, a team is devoted to planning, creating, and launching the organization’s social media projects. However, these projects are usually larger and more advanced than those using the social media champion approach. This strategy specifically considers how social media can influence business strategy, brand, and culture.

Organizations can use multiple approaches when designing a social media message. What is important is that they carefully consider their approach before posting any content to social media platforms.

The goal of creating social media messages is not only to reach your audience, but also to achieve an intended effect. Proper grammar and punctuation are important in social media writing, as is accuracy. A careless error could undermine the credibility of your brand. Here are a few other factors to consider when creating social media messages.

Engagement, engagement, engagement

More than many forms of communication, social media messages need to motivate the audience to engage with the content. Several strategies can encourage engagement, such as responding quickly to feedback from audience members, creating contests, and inviting the audience to respond to a question. Including photos and videos in social media posts substantially increases engagement, as does integrating trending topics (Redsicker, 2014). This requires careful consideration and research that will pay off if the trending hashtags are chosen wisely. Hai Poke, a startup restaurant in Columbus, did this by tapping into the Pokemon Go craze in the summer of 2016. The restaurant launched a social media contest and created a fun, timely, interactive message.

image of a man
Figure 5: “Poké” social media campaign image from Hai Poké’s Facebook page.


The core message needs to be articulated across all social media platforms in a consistent way that conveys a unified voice. The message also needs to reflect the brand image; in other words, it should reinforce the brand “feel” or personality. Referring back to the IHOP Twitter controversy, one reason audiences disliked the message was because its suggestive tone was inconsistent with the company’s family-friendly brand personality.

Concise writing

Similar to news writing, social media writing is straightforward. Because you’re competing against countless other messages in the social media sphere, you do not have much time and space to capture the audience’s attention. This is especially the case with Twitter, with its current 280-character limit. You have to think carefully not only about what the message will say but how to say it in a concise manner that has the intended effect.

For more information on effective social media writing, take a look at this video with Nicholas Love, social media director at The Ohio State University.


Social Media Writing Recommendations with Nicholas Love

Adapted from Chapters “The Impact of Social Media in Strategic Communication Industries“, “Factors to Consider Before Posting“, and “Creating Social Media Messages” from Writing for Strategic Communication Industries. All written by Jasmine Roberts and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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