Writing for the web: 7 Top Tips

Writing for the web is a tough challenge as there are so many aspects to think about, let alone the fact that many small businesses haven’t found the time to define a content strategy, if you’re staring at a blank word doc right now, we have some tips for you.

What we will cover

There’s a lot to consider when writing for the web. Who are you writing for? How do you grab and keep their attention? What do you want them to do once they’ve finished reading? How should the writing be formatted? How many words should you write? What about SEO?

Books have been written on the subject of website ‘copywriting’ and there is a wealth of information on the internet to help with some of the subtleties of the art.

For the purposes of this article, we have pulled out seven of the most useful tips to start you off on the right foot.

Identify your Target Audience

There are two major reasons for drawing up a detailed picture of your target reader prior to putting pen to paper.

First, it’s easier to write to a person than to a blank screen. By keeping them in the forefront of your mind you can decide what tone they would relate to (e.g. serious and formal, light-hearted and chatty, dramatic and expressive, etc.)

Second, it avoids the danger of trying to appeal to too many people at once and diluting the strength of your message.

Is your audience too varied for this?

Then you should consider creating multiple versions of your important pages or even creating a new microsite.

Remember that one of your most important visitors is the Google crawler. Although the algorithms used by Google are getting ever more sophisticated, they are still dependent on writers including important keywords in headings and sub-headings as well as the main copy.

These words also need to be added into the site’s metadata so be sure to communicate what those keywords are to the team in charge of search engine optimisation (SEO).

Grab Attention with the Inverted Pyramid

There is no point in writing the most engaging and persuasive body text if your reader never gets that far. Rather than follow the essay format and putting your juiciest information at the end, use the journalist’s inverted pyramid.

At the top of the pyramid is a clear, attention-grabbing headline which reveals exactly what the webpage or blog post is about. Next, the opening paragraph should explain, in simple terms, what the reader can expect to find if they continue reading. This could be a specific product or service (on a service page), some advice or opinion (in a blog post) or even some technical information (on a deeper webpage).

The question on the tip of your reader’s tongue will always be, ‘Am I going to find what I need on this page?’ If they think they will, they are likely to read on. It’s as simple as that (in theory!)

Convert Features to Benefits

A regularly repeated quote from Theodore Levitt goes: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”

In other words, people don’t care about you and your product; they care about themselves and their problem.

A good exercise to ensure your site is talking about holes and not bits is to write out a list of your product’s features on one side of a piece of paper. On the other side, answer the question: “Who cares?”

The answer to that question will be the benefit that this feature provides to the customer. You may find that you need to ask “who cares?” more than once for deeper insight into the solution your product or service provides.

Use Power Words

Power words are individual words that have been proven to pack an extra punch when you include them in a piece of writing.

Here are a list of over 500 power words for you to start playing with. However, one of the most powerful words of all is also one of the simplest: you!

Sprinkle with Empty Space

Any piece of writing can be made more effective by introducing plenty of space and variation. This is done through the use of headings and sub-headings, captioned images, bulleted lists, formatted text, block quotes and good old white space.

The latter can be added by simply breaking up text into chunks formed of separate paragraphs.

Avoid Redundancy

When writing for the web you should consider editing too (you were planning on editing before hitting publish, weren’t you?), make sure every word has earned its right to be in each sentence. Redundant words are those that could be taken out without negatively affecting the meaning of the sentence. Sometimes entire sentences can be redundant.

Here is an example of a sentence with redundant words:

“Our process will save you time and money and is incredibly efficient.”

An efficient process, by definition, saves time and money so that sentence could simply be rewritten:

“Our process will save you time and money.”

Forget About Word Count

The previous two sections were basically about avoiding too much ‘wordiness.’ Few people are inspired by a huge chunk of unformatted text and nobody wants to read the same thing over and over again.

Some people have interpreted this type of advice as recommending a minimal word count. This is not the case. Although there shouldn’t be too many words in a sentence (or sentences in a paragraph), this has nothing to do with the number of total words on a webpage.

So how much copy should you write? The short answer is: enough.

Let’s expand on that. For someone to take the next step in your process (buy a product, sign up to a newsletter, etc.) you need to answer any questions that might be preventing them from doing so.

That could take three words or three thousand.

Some one page internet marketing campaigns contain so many words that the page seems to scroll forever. However, you will notice that the ‘Buy Now!’ button is never far away. These marketers know that some readers will be excited enough to act after having scanned the headline whereas others will have questions they want answering first.

These long-form webpages simply keep answering potential objections until they have covered them all. It doesn’t matter to them if the reader has read every word they have written just as long as there is enough information to help them make a decision.

There is so much more to be said about writing for the web and not every web copywriter will agree on the finer points. But by following the seven tips above, you will give your business a head start over those competitors who confuse good writing with long words and flawless grammar.

If you feel that writing content is too much of a challenge or a chore, Vu Online work with experienced copywriters who can help you and can create copy along with keyword research as part of the Tribe ongoing marketing package.

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