If you ask me, web writing is the best thing to happen to non-writer writer types since spell check. It's also the worst thing to happen to meaningful content on the Internet... well, since the Internet.
Writing for the web may be easier than say, writing a novel, but don't let it fool you. It can present its equal share of challenges. The biggest one being, how do you get a web reader to actually read what you have to say? Attention on the web is hard to grab. It's even harder to keep. The easiest way to lose it is by publishing bad content.
Your content must be short, concise and to-the-point. It must follow trends in web writing, and more importantly, trends in the way people read on the Internet.
Following the guidelines below will help get you on the right track to packaging great content to fit what web readers expect from your site.
Before you get started on the piece you’re writing, answer these four questions:
1) WHY am I writing this?
2) WHAT is my main message?
3) WHO am I talking to?
4) HOW do I want them to respond?
Here are some quick tips that will help you once you've answered the above questions:
Think about the piece you’re writing like an upside down pyramid. The most relevant information should be included in the beginning.
(Image: Search Engine Land)
If you can say something shorter and more directly, do it. Short blasts of information resonate better with quick readers.
Sometimes a bulleted list can be more effective than a long form paragraph. Don’t make the reader wade through a ton of content to get the information they need.
Think of each paragraph or list as a self-contained section of information. Users don’t read, they scan.
Connect with readers by speaking to them in a personal and approachable tone. (This obviously varies upon content and audience.)
Image by Marcus Rodder on Flickr, licensed by Creative Commons.
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I like your point about starting with the most important information first. I have a tendency to want to include background information or a witty introduction at the beginning and then building up to the message. Putting the main message first not only lets readers see what they are in store for, but it also places the key content summary high in the markup order of the page, that is, writing content on the web for how people read on the web is by default good search engine candy.
I’m also a big advocate of subheadings. In fact, when writing for the web, I usually think directly in terms of h2, h3, ul, etc. But that’s probably because I have just as much fun marking up a document as I do writing it.
I’d also like to add one more bullet item to your list. Since the web is inherently a visual medium (though, all measures should be taken to make your information accessible) the use of infographics can help grab attention and summarize an idea or chunk of data, as you have demonstrated with the “upside down pyramid” in this post.
Thanks for the feedback on the post! The lit major in me constantly wants to start with a witty or anecdotal introduction, as well. The time I spent in journalism effectively weeded that out of me.
Thank you for contributing that last point about adding infographics to grab attention or summarize big ideas. They are especially helpful when explaining complex topics, such as SEO!
Thanks for the short and sweet post! I’m advocating my company to read Ginny Redish’s ‘Letting Go of the Words’ through a bookclub. It is a big awakening for many to learn how people read on the web. They are now realizing print and web content need to be different.
Lee, thanks for the tip on the Ginny Redish book. I can always stand to let go of a few words or two. Sometimes that is the hardest thing about being a web writer!
I think that’s the toughest part of web writing and marketing writing – figuring out how to be clear, concise, AND clever all at the same time. I usually don’t have too much difficulty getting two out of the three, but getting all three in harmony can be really tough.