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Writing for the Web

Published: 27th June 2009

Author: Andrew Hart

Writing content for the Web is not the same as writing for any other media and many Web authors fail to get this right, losing impact and visitors as a result.

Writing for the Web is about how you write - not just what you write.

Writing for the Web is not the same as writing for other media.

The most important elements to understand are:

  • Putting the most important information at the top
  • The amount of text to use
  • The type of language to use
  • The layout and structural elements

A well written page will have greater appeal to your readers but there are other benefits too:

  • Your content is far more likely to be shared by your readers, forwarding it to their contacts by email or using social networking tools - this is amazingly effective 'viral marketing'
  • Articles (or any web content) which deliver information fast, effectively and efficiently help to improve brand identity and increase conversion sales.
  • A good choice of language (in terms of words and phrases used) used will help your search engine ranking (SEO)*
  • A well written meta (page) description will help to improve click-through rates from search engine page results (SERPs)

* = Don't get too hung up on writing for SEO, but do bear your keywords in mind. If your content is good you will naturally gain quality inbound links that will drive both direct traffic and improve your SEO simultaneously!

How much text?

The answer is: the absolute minimum possible. The exact quantity varies from site to site as the audience and subject matter changes, but the same basic rule applies - it if isn't necessary then cut it.

Users do not typically read the majority of the content, but simply scan-read, looking for titles, the beginning of sentences and picking out keywords.

Overly long content causes the user's eye to skip over much of what you have written and at the same time information retention levels drop.

Essentially, if you write too much your message will become diluted or possibly even missed, so keep it short.

Language

Always write for your audience. An official 'voice' works well for informational websites but if your site is targeted at a younger or trendier audience it is likely to drive them away.

Similarly, don't use lingo or terminology that is not widely used. Jargon that is not understood can make users feel stupid or simply un-catered for. Either way, they will walk.

Layout

This is a mixture of the styling applied by the website's CSS (Stylesheets) and the authors content.

An author should:

  • Use a clear heading structure
  • Keep to one point per paragraph, and keep it concise
  • Use other tools to highlight as needed (such as use of bold font face (via the <strong> tag), bullet points etc).

One trap that must be avoided is information overload. A fear of not getting a particular point across leads many writers to expand upon and essentially bury the key information. Alas, large blocks of text do more harm than good in most cases.

Summarise

Writing essays or research leads users on a journey from the objective through towards the conclusion. Writing on the Web turns this around and has a clear requirement to have a summary of points at the beginning of the document. This enables the user to determine if the document might contain the information they are looking for. Without a clear idea of a pages content in the first few second it is likely that a user will become impatient and hit the 'back' key.

If you do need to write larger amounts of text (and there are instances where it is a necessity) then you may need a summary for the document and another for each of the key sections.

Getting the content right

Too many website creators focus on design and functionality, yet fail to address the simple need for well written content. A pretty website with no content may wow your visitors initially but few will feel the need to return again and again unless you can provide engaging content.

So, if you are looking for an 'edge' over your competition look to your content.

Want more…for less?

Complimenting the focus on content in this article we also recently published one on Web design and the value of simplicity. Together they illustrate how to get the most out of your website, by only putting in what is really necessary.


Further reading

If you are interested in learning more about writing for the Web here are some articles from other Web experts that I respect and admire: