Writing for the web isn’t particularly complicated, but it is an important skill to master.
And it doesn’t require a huge departure from the basic rules of writing that were (or used to be) hammered into us at school.
There are just a few criteria that have to be taken into account to maximise the impact of your copy, whether it be for marketing materials or a blog post.
And to be clear, these are guiding principles rather than hard and fast rules.
Get the important information upfront
This is also known as the inverted pyramid method, which essentially means that readers should be able find out everything they need to know from the opening few paragraphs.
You start with all the important information then move onto the additional detail and a more in-depth explanation.
It’s commonly used in news journalism, where reporters cram all the important details into the first line, such as in this topical example from the BBC:
Remember that people will be scanning your web copy, so they need to be able to glean the important information upfront or they’ll go elsewhere.
Know your audience
Aside from all the technical aspects, this is one of the most important criteria for writing for the web.
You need to be aware of who your audience is so you know the type of content that will appeal to them and the level at which it needs to be pitched.
This might involve dumbing things down to an extent. Not everything need to be aimed at the lowest common denominator, but things need to be written so that people can understand it and aren’t turned off by it.
A lot of this should have already been hammered out when coming up with your content strategy, but you need to constantly bear it in mind when writing your copy.
Think: will our audience find this appealing? Will they understand it? Will they find it useful? Will they want to share it?
Which ties into my next point…
Write in simple, concise English
The hardest part of writing for the web is keeping your copy simple and stripping out all the technical language.
People generally don’t want to read complicated explanations, they want web copy to be easy to understand and scan.
Text needs to be as simple and concise as possible.
Again, this isn’t about dumbing everything down, you just need to ensure you’re explaining things in such a way that a broad audience can understand.
Explaining complicated topics in simple language is a valuable skill. Don’t assume your readers are all academics with specialist knowledge, because on the web they’re definitely not.
Get rid of jargon
All industries have their own unique jargon that seems unnatural or even totally alien to normal people.
In the world of digital marketing we have awful terms like omnichannel, disruptive, growth-hacking and SoLoMo.
And if PRs are to be believed, then almost every business in the world can be described as ‘industry-leading’.
Marketing Buzzword Bingo!
This type of language should generally be avoided if possible, particularly if you want your content to be accessible to a broad audience.
On the other hand (there’s always a caveat), industry jargon can be useful if you want to appeal to a niche, expert audience (see rule one).
Forget what you think you know about constructing paragraphs.
On the web a sentence is equal to a paragraph. Maybe two sentences if they’re both quite short.
This is important for helping readers to scan your copy and means people won’t be put off when they see huge chunks of text on the screen.
It also encourages writers to use concise language.
This is another way to help people scan the text and find what they’re looking for.
Think of it as similar to different chapters in a book, only on a much smaller scale.
Subheadings should signpost the different points addressed within your article or webpage and break up the text into manageable chunks.
It’s helpful both for your readers and for Google’s web spiders.
Bullet points and numbered lists
Another formatting point aimed at breaking up the text and making things easier for people to read.
Bullet points add some variety to the page layout and make your copy really easy to scan.
It’s also far better than breaking up lists with loads of commas.
Inject some personality
This is only really relevant for articles and blog content rather than marketing copy, but at Econsultancy we encourage writers to let their personality show.
This means the tone is more conversational and more interesting for our readers.
People often comment that this is one of the things they like about our blog. We’re so flippin’ wacky…
— Econsultancy (@Econsultancy) May 21, 2014
Internal links (i.e. hyperlinks to other webpages) are hugely important when writing for the web.
They allow your readers to find other relevant or related content that you’ve published, and also help Google to crawl your site.
Without them each page exists in isolation and your readers won’t know about all the other useful articles you’ve written.
It also enables you to keep things concise as you don’t need to explain in detail all the technical terms that have slipped into your copy.
If people want to find out more they can follow the hyperlinks.
Include the author’s details
Including a byline on each article seems like a no-brainer, but not all sites do it.
I’d also recommend that the author’s contact details and social accounts are listed.
The benefits include:
- Readers know it was written by a real person.
- The author’s name adds validity to the information and can bring more weight to any arguments contained within.
- It builds up the writer’s portfolio and proves their expertise in that topic.
- Readers can get in contact with the author to find out more, which acts as a form of lead generation.
As a side note, you should also include a publishing date for all articles and blog posts.
Hiding the publishing date doesn’t make your content evergreen, it removes all context and makes it utterly worthless.
A word on headlines
I’ve covered this in my other post so I won’t harp on about headlines, but the most important things to remember are:
- Include all the important keywords (think what your audience might be searching for).
- Use adjectives to create interest.
- Pique the reader’s curiosity.
- With shareability in mind, try to keep headlines within 65 characters. This post explains more.
- Consider using lists, but only if you think it will work for your audience and is relevant for the content.
Use a summary/conclusion
When writing a blog post it’s often a good idea to wrap things up in a neat summary at the end of the page.
This is most relevant for long, analytical articles that include a lot of information.
At Econsultancy this includes things like site reviews or an evaluation of a brand’s marketing strategy.
People simply aren’t going to read everything you’ve written, so make things easier for them by writing a short conclusion that summarise the key points and arguments.