A practical guide to writing for the web

How to write for the web

A practical guide to writing for the web

Writing for the web is different to other types of writing. This is because people skim online content rather than read it left to right as they would a book or newspaper.  

With so many choices at their fingertips, users will quickly scan a page looking for answers. If they don’t find what they’re looking for within 15 seconds, they will leave your site.

Clearly you don’t have long to make an impact. Crafting compelling content that will immediately engage users is essential to reducing your bounce rate, and there are a number of ways you can do this.

1. Know your audience

This is perhaps the most important rule of writing for the web. Consider your audience needs and how your content will answer their problems. Keep this in mind when you are copywriting so that your content is always on-topic.

2. Implement a keyword strategy

Think about the words and phrases people will use when searching for your services on Google. Consult research tools such as SEMrush, Keyword Tool or SERPs keyword research database for inspiration and useful insight into competitor keywords.

Feature these words throughout your web copy but avoid keyword stuffing (including your keywords as much as possible with the sole purpose of gaining ranking in organic search) which Google will penalise you for.

3. Put the most important information upfront

Start with your conclusion using the ‘Inverted Pyramid’

The Inverted Pyramid is an effective way to structure your content and is commonly used by journalists to grab the reader’s attention. It proposes that you front-load your page by putting put your conclusions at the beginning and work backwards from there.

Diagram showing the Inverted Pyramid:

The first few sentences of the page should contain your relevant keywords. This will benefit your SEO and create a good user experience by enabling users to quickly assess the page’s relevancy.

4. Make your content scannable

People have short attention spans and will only read 20% of your content. Highlight key points to make it easier for them to find relevant information using the techniques below.

Bullet points

If you have a series of items separated by commas, reformat the points into a bulleted list.  Keep the points short, usually no more than two lines in length, and limit the list to ten items. A bulleted list will:

  • give order to content

  • highlight important information

  • help the reader understand key points and issues quickly

  • create white space so the reader will stop and slow down, and

  • give the user’s eyes a chance to rest and process information.

Headings

People frequently only read headlines until something grabs their attention. This is your chance to make an impact so make them informative and relevant. Follow the HTML hierarchy of Header Tags and front-load your tags with relevant keywords.

Images and illustrations

Break up text and enhance your site’s visual appeal with relevant images. Use infographics and illustrations to present numerical information or instructions.

Images and video are great for usability, can reduce bounce rate and increase time on-site. They also boost SEO and provide a better user experience.

Short sentences and paragraphs

To avoid overwhelming your readers, break your text into more manageable sections. Short paragraphs and sentences will make your content much easier to read.

The BBC website is a good example of scannable content with one-sentence paragraphs surrounded by plenty of white space - see screenshot below:

Screenshot 2017-05-03 11.51.40.png

5. Simplify your writing

Simple vocabulary

People don’t have time to read screeds of text and overly complicated language is off-putting. Avoid unnecessary jargon and use simple vocabulary to make your content more accessible.

Simple verbs

Where possible replace two-word verbs such as ‘find out’ or ‘make sure’ with single word verbs such as ‘discover’ or ‘ensure’. Similarly, you should replace three-word verbs, for example ‘look out for’ or ‘keep abreast of,’ with ‘anticipate’ or ‘monitor’.

Keep it concise

Only a fifth of your content will be read so don’t waste time writing laborious copy. People will skim your content so keep it concise and to the point.

Active voice

Use an active voice instead of the passive voice to make your copy more engaging and remove unnecessary words. For example, ‘see the results’ sounds much better than the ‘results can be seen here’.

Grammar, spelling and typos

Poorly written copy with grammatical and spelling mistakes looks unprofessional. Follow these steps to improve the quality of your writing:

  • step away from your content once you have finished copywriting

  • come back to it later and revise the document with fresh eyes

  • take another break then proofread it for mistakes

  • print the document out and read it off-screen to double check for typos, and

  • get a colleague to proofread it for you in case there are any mistakes you have missed.

You will probably need to revise your copy several times before you get a version you’re happy with.

6. Optimise your site with on-page SEO

We’ve already mentioned keywords and heading tags but there are a number of other on-page optimisation techniques you should consider to improve your search engine rankings. These include unique title and description tags, relevant URLs and meaningful alt and link text. Read more about how to optimise your website here.

In summary, know your audience and keywords so that your content is relevant. Use simple language, optimise your content for search engines and make your text scannable. By following these rules, you will improve your page quality, reduce your bounce rate and create an overall better user experience.

Web Foundry can advise on your content and SEO strategy. Get in touch for more information.

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Author

Joan Lavery on Wednesday, 03 May 2017

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