Writing Web Content

By: Scott Lindsay

Professional writers find it hard to read web content. Not because web content lacks quality, but because it lacks literary style. Obviously writing for the printed media and writing for the web are two different matters. There are not too many people ready to give up the morning newspaper for the, let’s say, “morning e-zine", but more and more users browse the web looking for information, news and entertainment.

It’s easier to follow a story in the printed media than online. Reasons vary from the size of the text and the resolution of the monitor to how a page is read. While people read novels and books in sequence, web readers are unpredictable. You never know on what page a visitor is going to land and from where. People browse the web and look for specific information. Then they “scan" a page and read solely what captures their interest.

To write good content for the web means to be able to write plain. Here are some good tips in writing content for the web:

1. Write as you talk. That means: use a simple writing style: plain English, short sentences, clear content and easy flow of ideas. Don’t use fancy words to show how smart you are. Guess what? People don’t care. You don’t want your readers to run to a dictionary to see what you mean.

2. Summarize your main ideas in clear titles and headings. This is what web readers are looking for: a clear formatted text with a clear structure of ideas. Start with the headline, continue with a summary, and use subheads to outline different ideas. People do read bulleted text. Use bullets or numbers to condense important points (yeah, as in this article).

3. Write less: people don’t like to scroll down on infinite pages. Long articles almost always turn them off. Keep your articles short – let’s say not longer than 500 words.

4. Chunk your web pages. As users prefer shorter pages, try to limit the length of your web pages by creating slices of information. Use links to help readers quickly locate further info.

5. To enhance reader experience, use visible links to more information, news, related sources, pictures and so on. Don’t mislead your readers. Let them choose which links to follow. As a standard, links are blue and underlined. But many designers choose other colors and a hover effect that suggests to users that the text is a link.

6. Write exciting content: people love controversy and learn from debate. Turn on their imagination, encourage them to comment and send you feedback. Use a personal, friendly style to win their sympathy.

7. Write for your readers but don’t forget about the search engines. Writing for the search engines might cause your phrases to sound odd and repetitive, but search engines are looking for keywords. Keyword density is one of the factors influencing the positioning of your website in the search engines results. So: repeat words but don’t annoy your visitors with this technique. Repetitive is not synonym with stuffing.

Now, if you are an experienced journalist or a traditional writer, are you sure you want to give that up and become a web writer? Or could you be both? Think about it!
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