You might be pretty good at putting pen to paper, but when it comes to writing for the web, how clued up are you?
Thankfully, many of the same principles apply, but there are a few additional things to bear in mind. After all, there’s no guarantee that people will read your content online, so you have to work a little bit harder to keep them engaged. Whether it’s a blog, an email, or a page for your website, your copy will benefit from following some standard guidelines.
So with that in mind, let’s go back to basics with my top 5 tips for writing for the web – and doing it well.
1. Use headings and subheadings
Headings are essential for writing online, as they help to break up large chunks of content and make it easier to digest – particularly important when it’s being read on a mobile device.
Headings should be direct, concise and effectively summarise what you’re about to say. Not only will they help your reader, they’ll also help Google to understand what your content is about.
2. Make it scannable
Digital readers consume content differently. Rather than reading every single word, they tend to scan the page, taking from it the bits and pieces of information that stand out and feel relevant.
Ever heard of the F-pattern? Research shows that most people online read in the shape of an F – along the top, then down the left hand side. And what that means at its core is that people are scanning. So if you want your content to be read, it needs to be scannable.
Headings will help a lot, for the reasons I stated above. You might also want to consider front-loading – the act of positioning the most important words and info at the front of a sentence or paragraph, so you can really target those areas that people are focusing on.
There are other things you can do with formatting, too. Bullet points and numbered lists are a seamless way of breaking up your content, and using bold or italics can help emphasise particularly important points.
3. Keep it short
When it comes to writing for the web, short and sweet is definitely the way to go. Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t write long pages for your site – on the contrary, you should be writing rich, detailed content wherever you can (Google loves this, and it’ll help when it comes to ranking in the SERPs). Instead, try and make your sentences snappier and more concise.
Each paragraph should ideally only cover one point; this presents fewer distractions for the reader, who’ll be less likely to skip on to the next bit.
4. Keep it conversational
‘Conversational copy’ is a bit of a buzzword at the moment, but there’s a reason why it works so well. When you write as if you’re talking to someone, people tend to be much more receptive. The online environment is an interactive one, and a conversational style of writing will open you up more to engagement, and an invaluable opportunity to speak to your customers.
There are a few ways to put this into practice. Try using contractions – “we’re” and “they’ll“ instead of ‘we are’ and ‘they will’ – and write in the first person. Crafting an authentic tone of voice is important here, as it will help to humanise your brand.
5. Make it useful
My final tip is probably the most important of them all – in fact, I’d even go as far as saying that if you’ve not nailed this one, you may as well write off the rest. Above all, your content needs to be useful. Try not to get bogged down in SEO best practice – if getting your keywords in is at the expense of copy that makes sense and flows naturally, it’s not worth it (and you could be penalised for it by Google).
And don’t just write for the sake of it. If it takes 500 words to get your point across, fine. But if you can do it in just 100, you should. Don’t be worried about meeting some invisible word count. The most important thing is that what you’ve written is helpful to the reader – and with this as a base, you can’t really go wrong.