March 14, 2015 by NILS
Writing for the Web
Online writing needs to meet the needs of busy people. Online readers are often either seeking a specific bit of information or browsing an area of general interest. They want accessible information that gets to the point quickly. Effective online writing relies on presenting short segments of texts. It must be written in a clear, concise way and with regular visual landmarks
Journalism writing style
The aim of writing for the internet is to engage readers in a conversation. It is the style of modern journalism and an essential element of contemporary information literacy. You try to bring information quickly to a mass audience.
To engage readers, write directly, answer questions, and give readers information quickly – make the effort to make it easy to read. Most web surfers are task oriented. They skim and scan text, taking in just enough information to get to the next destination. To help web visitors achieve their aims, we can provide subheadings, and bullet and numbered lists.
- Regular headings and lists support scanning as well as methodical readers. They add visual structure to the online reading experience. Compared to large printed pages, web pages lack room for subtle white space placements and typography.
- The structure from headings also supports search engine optimization and online search. It provides explicit keyword emphasis and context cues.
- Keep in mind that the devices on which your content will be read will range from wide monitors to small smart phones. So be a multi-skilled technology journalist, and create something different for each context. Usually, mobile versions of a web page are stripped down compared to desktop layouts, with simpler graphics and smaller images.
Search engine optimisation
When you are writing for the web, you need to keep in mind that many people are landing on pages directly via Google and other online search engines. Finding the right keywords or phrases is essential to capture the audience of internet users who might be interested in your content. You need to identify the words your audience commonly uses during search.
George Orwell’s rules for writing are highly applicable to the internet.
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive voice where you can use be active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday equivalent.
Other style considerations
The text you present should be immediately useful. Empty words such as welcome messages or instructions on how to use the site are to be avoided. Rather than telling users what they’ll find on the page, just start presenting it. They’ll quickly get the idea of what the page is about if you get to the point.
Establish an informative tone
Make every effort to use active verbs and first-person language. Readers also welcome some individuality, so try to show some personality. For most websites, you need to balance being engaging and authoritative. For reader marketing, it’s all about personality and charisma.
Write 1,021 instead of one thousand and twenty one. Numerals stand out on the page, attract users scanning for facts, and make your copy shorter.
In the online mode, readers skim text to get an overview of a page before they might settle into serious reading. Placing keywords at the beginnings of text helps them. Search engines also attach greater weight to keywords appearing early in titles, text, and hyperlinks.
Places where you should look to inject keywords (with crossing the line into “keyword stuffing”) are:
- Page title
- Major headings (h1 and h2)
- Early in titles and towards the beginning of the top five paragraphs
- Alternate text of content images (alt text)
- Words in the url
Web page titles are crucial:
- It is the first thing readers see
- It becomes the text for any bookmarks created by readers to find your page again
- Search engines treat the page title as the primary descriptor of page content.
The page title should:
- Contain keywords and themes for the page that are accurate and likely search terms
- Form a concise, easily understood description of page contents
- Be unique within the website.
Web writing rules-of-thumb
- Use short paragraphs.
- Your first paragraph should be brief, to the point and engaging.
- Write in an inverted pyramid style. That means placing the most important information at the top and detailed info towards the bottom.
- Use subheadings to identify the subject of various sections on a page.
- Don’t waste space welcoming people to the page and talking about yourself in detail.
- Place important links where they are easily located and clicked on.
- For general text, try not to use bold and italics, and never underline. Save emphasis for headings and links.