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A Guide to Writing for the Web

Web writing is a different task than writing for other media. It’s not just what you say that matters, but how you say it. If you’re new to writing for the web, there are a few best practices you should implement in order to create a user-friendly piece.

Before we get started, you might be wondering: Why is there a right way and a wrong way to write for the web?

  • It’s been proven that people read differently online than they do in print — they’re scanning, and they ultimately read only about 20% of the words you’ve written.
  • There is a LOT of content out there online, and you need a way to make sure your page is the one that people land on.
  • Over half of traffic to leading U.S. sites comes from a mobile device. This copy needs to be easily readable and scannable on a small screen.

Use Keywords

Before you write, you should perform keyword research to find out which words and phrases users are using so that you can implement a sound search engine optimization strategy. There are some paid tools, like Moz, that can help you identify the most relevant keywords for your page, but you can also do a decent amount of research and educated guessing on your own (Google Trends is a great, free resource).

The keywords you choose should be used in your content so that search engines can pull your page when it is relevant to a user’s search. Use keywords in strategic placements:

  • The first paragraph of your page
  • The title and subheads
  • Title tag and meta description

One note of caution: DO NOT overuse keywords; search engines punish pages that cram in too many.

Show the Good Stuff First

The surest way to get someone to leave your page too quickly is to bury the important information. Start with the most important information and go from there. A good way to determine where to begin is to put yourself in your user’s shoes; ask yourself, “If I were reading this, why would I care?”

Use Subheads

Using subheads to break up long copy can add visual interest, and it also makes your content scannable. Users are not typically reading every single word you’ve written (as wonderful as they may be) and are quickly looking for bite-size, easily digestible pieces of information. We are using subheads in this very post — you wouldn’t remember every word if asked to recall it later, but the main points are more likely to be recalled later.

Keep Paragraphs Short

Maybe in high school your essay paragraphs needed to be eight to ten sentences in order to get that A+, but not on the web. Two to three sentences is the norm for a web page. Mobile users especially are on-the-go. Breaking up information suits those with limited time, multitaskers, or those with short attention spans.

Link to More Information

Every page of content you write is an opportunity to drive the user to even more of your content. When you can, link to other relevant pages on your site to keep your user browsing. It’ll have great implications for your analytics, not to mention a useful and engaging experience for the user. (Did you notice that we directed you to our internet dictionary at the top of this article? Or that we just did it again?)

Don’t Use Overcomplicated Language

Print writing is much more formal than web writing. A web user is more open to a bit of personality and copy that feels conversational. Thus, there’s no need for jargon or vague industry terms. You should also keep your language active, and not passive (which, as any writer will tell you, you should always do anyway). Since they’re only reading 20% of what you wrote, let’s make that 20% useful — and a little bit fun.

Use Visuals to Explain Concepts

In writing for the web, sometimes things actually shouldn’t be explained in words if they are better suited to a visual. Scanning information is most common, so attractive graphics or photography can help drive a key point home.

Use Bullets and Lists

Here’s a list about why people like lists:

  1. It makes the mental process of categorization easier
  2. Humans process information spatially
  3. Bullets or lists increase our ability to remember the info

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Written by Molly Gingrich