Writing for the web is no different than writing a great article for a newspaper or magazine. You still have to write clean, be intelligent, be credible, etc. But there are a few tips and tricks specific to this platform. There are a number of great books out there, and even more blogs, on the topic, but here are some of the basics I’ve picked up.
There have been studies published on how people read when they’re on the Internet. They scan. Keep paragraphs simple – one idea – and no more than 3 fingers long if possible. (I have small hands but I hold my fingers to the screen, and if my paragraph flows past my fingers then it’s too long. If you’ve got meat-hooks for hands – use your best judgment.) Forget the flowery language and verbose descriptions. When writing for the web make your point up front (see inverted pyramid writing) and move on.
Relevant Titles and Headings
Studies also show that people scan the web in an F pattern – so they search for the title and the paragraph headings first, and then read the first few words or line of text. Relevant headings and titles help scanners–don’t frustrate them with misleading titles or clever headings. You want people to link to your content and share it with their friends – tricking people into wasting time will not win you any extra points. Use white space to break up the text, use bullets, lists and point form when appropriate.
Bold and Italics Are OK
Using bold and italics to draw attention to key words or phrases is essential in writing for the web. Avoid using underlining because that typically indicates a hyperlink. Use the formatting sparingly to avoid people just ignoring it. Make your text easy to read. Be cautious using dark backgrounds or coloured text, and unique fonts don’t make you stand out – it makes your web copy hard on the eyes. Remember you’re one click away from another website that’s easier to read.
Know Your Audience
Who are you writing for? Are you writing for an audience that’s primarily local, focused on a cause, or a specific nationality? If you’re hoping to attract a worldwide audience, using only British or Canadian grammar could ruin your credibility with readers who may assume you can’t spell correctly. Don’t be afraid to use industry jargon or terminology if that’s who your audience is. As with any other writing, keep your audiences’ education level and age in mind.
The key to return traffic to your web site or blog is added value. New and fresh content regularly is very important. To give added value use hyperlinks to extra or more indepth content. You can use hover text widgets and plug ins, or link to other pages and websites instead of loading all the information you know into one page. If you can link to other pages on your own website that’s even better. The Google spiders love this (more about that later).
With the web, anyone can post anything so it’s important to be credible. Ever read several websites on the same thing – the one that says something very different isn’t unique – its content becomes unreliable. A website that looks gimmicky or blatantly tries to sell a product over and over won’t attract visitors. The Google spiders are looking for content that other people are reading and recommending – this activity increases credibility and hence ranking. Remember, it’s all about adding value. Don’t be afraid to link to outside websites because it shows you know what you’re talking about.
Search Engine Optimization. The people at Google make a living helping people find what they’re looking for–fast. To do this, Google sends out web crawlers across the internet to search out, compile and categorize content. (This is super simplified – just stay with me.) You want the Google spiders to not only find you, but really like you and recommend you to users – give a high ranking.
The trick to SEO is choosing the key words or phrases people will use when searching for the information you’re offering. Content is King. Write valuable original content first – organically placing your key word or phrase in your web copy. Not in every paragraph – the spiders aren’t blind. Don’t cheat – not only do the spiders dislike cheaters they can and have tanked search rankings as a penalty. For instance, the phrase ‘writing for the web’ occurs six times in this post. Did you even notice? The spiders notice content at the beginning of the web article first, so pay special attention to your title and first paragraphs.
Writing SEO copy is a whole other blog post that would cover tagging, meta tags, naming photos, and so on. Again, these are all very brief points about writing for the web.
Now my son is asking me to send the google spiders to find a walk-through for his latest video game, so I’ve gotta go. I’d love to hear your tips for writing for the web (ha – slipped one more in :))