Everybody’s writing for the web – we post two million blogs a day – but here’s a question: how many people are actually reading the stuff? And – being an internet writer myself – specifically, how many people are reading my stuff. It’s one thing to write copy; it’s another thing to write copy that gets read.
Writers are up against it. There’s not much time to capture a reader’s attention – eight seconds according to several studies. That’s the same as a goldfish. And copy needs to keep readers engaged. It’s tempting to use imagery to fill web pages but it’s not copy. And sure SEO is important but it’s not that important anymore. Gone are the days of keyword stuffing and static, SEO-heavy copy; search engines reward web pages with well-written and well-read copy.
So, how to do it? There is no silver bullet solution for effective web writing and I can’t promise to make you a better writer but these four golden rules help me focus on the task in hand.
1) Know Your Audience
A bit of research into your target market makes writing for the web a lot easier. Visualise your potential customer – steaming coffee cup in hand – sitting down to read your newsletter, blog or article. What language are they ready for – formal or informal? Will they appreciate – or even understand – slang or abbreviations? What about exclamation marks and smiley faces?
This is where things like word choice become so important. Will your service deliver on expectations or give ‘em what they want? Contractions (don’t, you’ll, you’re and so on) signal informal language as does a chatty, active-voiced approach (we’ll process your order). The passive voice carries a more formal, impersonal weight (your order will be processed).
2) Know Your Purpose
It’s the mantra I hum to myself as I type: “Why Am I Writing? Why Am I Writing?” But there’s no existential crisis going on, I’m merely reminding myself of the purpose of the copy. Am I informing the reader – guidebook style – or trying to get them to buy something? Do I want to get an opinion from them or their personal details?
With purpose in mind, writing becomes easier. If you’re selling something for example, make sure the reader sees the value-proposition. Why should they buy from you when there’s so much else on the web. And if you are informing, how effective is your copy? Get a friend to read it before you publish and see if they can summarise it for you. If they can’t, it may need going over again. Or maybe you need new friends.
3) Know Your Style
No-one likes a block of dense, unstructured text. Writing for the web can be as much about the clever manoeuvring of content as it is about creativity. Facilitate the reading process by organising copy into paragraphs with snappy headings or easy-to-digest ‘best of’ or ‘top 10’ lists.
And get tough on accuracy. Grammar and spelling errors can mean more than an apparent slip of the keyboard; they erode trust in the writer. Everyone can forgive a misused semi colon but if a writer can’t use any form of punctuation then they are unlikely to gain a reader’s trust.
4) Wax that Opening Sentence
If you spend one hour writing and half of it is taken up with crafting a really good opening sentence, then that’s a good hour spent. Getting it right from the get-go is vital: it will not just hook the reader but more than likely get them to read the rest of the piece.
How? Well, writing that killer opening sentence is not always easy but starting with something that’ll interest your audience is the thing. Start with a question or proposition, raise a concern or set an expectation. You need to sound authoritative and expert, and make sure you leave something dangling for the reader to carry on reading – the promise of an answer.
What golden rules govern your writing? Feel free to share your secrets on writing for the web!