While some aspects of writing for the web are different than writing for traditional outlets, the method is the same. Both require similar thought processes and need to contain relevant information. Keep in mind that just because your outlet has changed, the quality of your writing should not. Here are a few basic reminders and tips.
Know Your Audience
Ask yourself, “Who will read this content?” Once you realize who will read your content, catering to what is relevant to them is the first priority. From there you determine the tone, length, technical level and purpose. Remember that you are writing for them, not yourself. Even opinion editorials have an audience other than oneself, at least the good ones.
You have 2.6 seconds. Go. That’s the attention span of the average person reading on the web. With so many distractions, how do you get people to choose your Google entry, or stay on your website? Use powerful, concise language that resonates with your audience (reminder: know your audience). This is the art of creating great email subject lines. How do you get that recipient to open your email? Get their attention, but remember to follow through. Your content needs to be relevant to that subject line. Gossip column emails are great at this.
Short and Simple
If you don’t need a word, don’t use it. Less characters = stronger impact. It seems easy, but try Tweeting something meaningful that covers who, what, when, where, why AND intrigues your audience to click your link. Taking out modifiers (adjectives, adverbs, etc.) helps. Other overused words: also, as such, therefore, so, just, that, usually. Here’s a quick example of what editing with this in mind can do:
Original: Fridays are usually fun and relaxed around the office.
Edited: Casual Fridays at work rock.
Pyramid structure. Anybody who has ever written a news article or press release knows what this is. Start with what is important and then go in to more detail. You are not writing the Great American Novel, do not start with a funny quip or pontificating “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Get to the point, fast.
Break up text. Nobody wants to read 30 lines of continuous text. Use images, paragraph breaks, lists and subtitles. When you write for the web, you want it to be easy to scan. This helps with short attention spans.
Vary your sentence structure. Repetitive, boring writing is a quick way to lose readers. Quick advice: sentence fragments are okay when you write for the web. Why? Fragments are concise and to the point. Don’t tell my journalism professors that though.
Don’t forget SEO
Content can only be good if someone reads it. Focus your writing with keywords so when your audience searches for your topic, they find you. If you need a lesson in that, our SEO Boot Camp is wonderful.
Even though it’s the web and your infinite wisdom is not printed in The Wall Street Journal, it does not excuse poor grammar, misspellings or incoherent thought flow. If you know your editing skills aren’t the greatest, have someone else edit your writing. Do not publish your writing on the web without this, even if you can log into your website and edit it quickly. It’s poor practice.
If you’d like more insights about writing for the web, sign in to ASPE-ROI instructor Phil Buckley’s Writing for the Web seminar on August 16. Phil also teaches our Writing for the Web course.