Writing for websites is very different than writing for print publications, and to be an effective writer for web content, you need to know the differences and learn to embrace them. If the only writing you have ever done was for print publications or your own blog, learning to write web copy and web content means you almost have to learn the rules of writing all over again.
This article is going to explore some of the differences between web copy and content and the way you probably learned to write when you were in school. Don’t worry, you don’t have to throw out everything you learned about writing in order to be an effective web writer, because things like grammar and punctuation are still the same, or at least similar, but you do need to learn what makes good web copy.
According to various internet research studies, you have about 3-5 seconds to catch your reader’s attention, and about 12 seconds of writing to keep it. The average computer user will not spend more than 7-12 minutes maximum on your website or your article, so you have a very small window in which to grab the reader’s attention, focus that attention on your article, and then keep that attention to the end.
We were taught in school to use a thesis paragraph and sentence for our introduction to our writing, but with web content and web copy, this may not necessarily be the best way to go. Of course, you do want to tell the reader what your article is about, but the first part of your article really needs to be something that will grab the reader’s attention in those first 3-5 seconds and make them read further.
Therefore, when writing web copy, you want to move your actual thesis sentence or paragraph down the page to about the second or third paragraph and save your introduction for something that will really hook your reader.
After that, you want to keep the article short. If you don’t feel a short article will convey all the information you need to the reader, then consider writing a series of articles, or simply write more than one article on the topic at hand and have different points in each article. If the article cannot be read through in less than 7 minutes (and preferably less than 5), then you need to break it up into more than one article.
Keywords and Search Engine Optimization
When we were taught to write in school, repetition was a bad thing. We were told to find new and creative ways to say the same thing differently. Instead of repeating the same phrases over and over again, we were taught to use different adjectives and nouns to draw our word pictures and keep the writing from being stale.
With web content and web copy, the exact opposite is true. Repetition is better. You need keywords for your article that will be scanned and picked up by search engines and directories, and those need to be ‘optimized’, or in other words, you need to have as many instances of them in your copy as you can without it being overkill.
Yes, this will make your writing read a bit choppy and it won’t be quite as ‘creative’ as if you had written without search engine optimization, but the only way people are going to find your articles and content is if the search engines can properly index your articles for the keywords people would enter if they were searching for your topic.
Yes, this means you will sound repetitive, and unfortunately, you’ll just have to get used to it for writing web copy and web content.
Capitalization and Formatting
We have long been told that in professional writing, you are to use bold and/or italics for emphasis and to never capitalize an entire word in order to emphasize it. Well, this isn’t necessarily true for web content and web copy. Bold and italics do mean different things to some search engines and directories, and depending on how the browser renders your text or how the text editor works, bold and italics are difficult for readers to see.
Because of this, it is SOMETIMES acceptable to use all capital letters to emphasize a word when writing web copy, even though you would probably never do this in a professional print publication writing. The key here is to use it very sparingly, and only when that emphasis is absolutely necessary for the writing.
When writing for print, you were probably told in school that a paragraph should be as long as necessary to convey a group of sentences with a similar thought or theme. Each paragraph was to be like a mini article of its own, with the introduction sentence, several supporting sentences, and a thesis or conclusion sentence.
Web content and web copy is very different in this respect, because people will be reading your article or content on a computer screen, and it will be rendered by different browsers and placed on sites that might include other content or information around the article.
Because of all these things, long paragraphs are difficult for the reader to view, strain the eyes, and also may appear longer than they really are. Remember that the attention span of an internet surfer is greatly reduced over someone reading a book or magazine, and very long paragraphs without a break are intimidating to a web reader, and they may just skim or choose not to read your content at all.
Paragraphs for web content should be between 2-5 sentences in length, unless the sentences themselves are longer, and then perhaps only 3 sentences to a paragraph. Yes, this will mean that sometimes you break a paragraph when the thoughts that come after it are still related to the content above it.
Lists, Bullets, Points, Headers
Web content readers are looking for snippets of information more than they are for reading articles like one would in a magazine or newspaper or book. Remember that attention span issue, and realize that the web surfer will scan the content with their eyes first, determine if there is anything of use for them, and then may read the first few seconds of your content.
One way to really draw the attention of a web reader is to use things in your content that draw their eye. Lists, bullets, bolded or underlined headings that break up your content into points, and other formatting tools you may have at your disposal will help make your web content more attractive and allow your web reader to scan and hit the high points of your writing first, and then they may come back and read the entire content.
Give Them More
When a person is doing research in a library or by using books and magazines, they will probably find two or three reputable sources and then will not look any further. The person on the internet though is very different in their research.
Since most internet surfers only spend a few seconds or just a few minutes at most on any one article or website, and because additional information is just a few keystrokes or mouse clicks away, the average research on the internet may be from many different sources.
Once we start clicking, those clicks lead to more clicks, lead to more clicks, and lead to more clicks. So when you write your web copy or content, give your reader some alternate sources to click on to read to learn more about your subject. You can send them to more information you have created yourself or you can send them to other websites that support the information you have given them.
This is NOT the same as citing a source or referencing another website in your content though. What you are wanting to do by providing additional resources for your content is to add credibility to your information, by showing other reputable sites who share your opinion, as well as showing your reader you are knowledgeable.
When you give your reader information in addition to what you have provided, they just might remember you as being knowledgeable and backing that knowledge up, and they may come back and look at other information you provide in the future.
There you have it: Six Tips for Writing Effective Web Content. Of course, these aren’t the only tips for writing effective web content, but these are good to give you a start on how to adjust your writing style to make it more internet friendly.