Think about where you do most of your reading. It probably takes place on the web, right? whether it’s news, social media or even just the website for a new restaurant you’re looking to try, we’re reading more than ever on screens in our hands, laps and on our desks.
As you can probably guess, we interact with screens differently than we interact with traditional paper materials. For that reason, you’ll also want to switch up your writing style when writing content that people will consume digitally. In tailoring your writing for the web, you’ll find that visitors to your site will have an easier time finding the information they’re looking for, and happy visitors lead to happy customers.
Tone and Voice - Keep it Casual
The internet is a casual place, and dense, overly-technical writing just feels out of place. Readers want to be talked to as people, so try writing in a tone that feels conversational rather than professional. Speak to readers like you’re talking to close colleague, or they’ll likely just ignore the message.
- Use a casual tone and avoid jargon that might trip people up, even if you think your audience is familiar with the terms.
- Write in an active voice, rather than a passive one (Ex. “John wrote the article”, rather than “the article was written by John”).
- Mix in pronouns like “you” for the reader, and “we” for the writer or business, to make them feel involved in the conversation.
Length - Keep it Short and Sweet
Producing content that's easily consumed is critical to successful web writing. According to a Nielsen Norman Group study, “on the average web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.” With such a small window, you need to make each and every word count.
- Front load the information your audience is looking for to make sure your readers get what they came for from the jump.
- Try using the inverted pyramid model employed by most journalists, starting with the top level idea and narrowing in on the details.
- Aim for between 300-700 words. Web readers are happy to skim, but if you make them scroll too far they’ll move on.
Formatting - Make it Easy to Read
In addition to keeping your word countdown, you should keep the length of your paragraphs short and sweet as well. Write in chunks, using each paragraph to highlight and explain just one point. Say what you need to say, then jump down to the next subject.
Lists and bullet points are other examples of writing formatted to be informative and easy to scan. It allows you to cut down on transitions that can jumble your ideas and confuse people. Use them when it makes sense, but also make sure it’s clear what the overall message is.
Headlines - Show Your Readers What They Want
The best way to keep your content organized and on message is to use clear headlines and subheads. Headlines allow the reader to easily skim the article, pulling out the information they came for, and optimizing their experience.
You’ll especially want to use headlines if your articles begin to stretch towards 700 words or more. Reader fatigue is a huge concern when writing for the web, and with so many other options readers are quick to jump to another source if the article appears to be too long.
Search Engine Optimization - Get Discovered
Before writing you’ll want to research the type of keywords your target audience are interested in. You can use marketing tools like Google Adwords to get detailed information, but you can also just use some common sense and exploratory searches as well.
Search engines rank your page depending on the number of times the search query appears on the page, but also by how clear and organized the content is, as well as by how many inbound links connect to the page. Make sure you are linking back to your content when appropriate to maximize your ranking and ability to be discovered.