Content is king when it comes to the web. People will come to your website because of the quality of your content. They will also consider sharing your site with others if they feel that the content is relevant or worthwhile.
1. Know your audience
Aside from all of the technical aspects, this is one of the most important criterion for writing for the web.
You need to be aware of who your audience are so you know the type of content that will appeal to them and the level at which it needs to be pitched. This might involve simplifying things to an extent. Not everything needs to be ‘dumbed down’, but your content should be written so that people can understand it without feeling put off.
A lot of this should have already been hammered out when coming up with your content strategy, but you need to constantly bear it in mind when writing your copy.
- Will our audience find this appealing?
- Will they understand it?
- Will they find it useful?
- Will they want to share it?
2. Consider where your content works best
Always be mindful that not all content is web appropriate. There is content that is best placed online, but only when kept short. Holding back on detail can be used to supplement further engagement with your audience or used across other forms of media. Some content is simply better suited for print or alternatively delivered over the phone, or even in person.
The best web content is:
- Targeted and direct – answers the reader’s primary needs for visiting the page/section
- Interesting and engaging
- Starts a conversation without necessarily finishing it
3. Write meaningful headers
Headers allow readers to navigate content – use it to clearly describe the content in each paragraph. Remember that people scan the information and so a headline must be a clear signpost for what’s to come.
- Be short and direct
- Be able to stand on their own and understood out of context
- Avoid jargon, abbreviations and technical terms
- Be search engine friendly – make the most of the words you use
4. Be smart to be effective
Most users visit a web page for 10-15 seconds. In that brief time, 80% will skim the page for keywords they already have in mind. Therefore, before you create content, it’s important to understand your audience (see Point 1) and anticipate what content and keywords they’re trying to find.
When a user conducts a search on a search engine, the database is queried to identify all the pages that include those words on the page and/or in the links pointing to that page. If your page does not include the words the user was searching for, it is unlikely that it will rank well, if at all.
The same is true when none of the links to that page include the words that the user used in their search. Once pages have been identified, search engines order the results according to relevance.
Relevance can be determined by dozens and dozens of criteria, such as keyword prominence – in other words, how often and where your keywords appear on a page. Don’t waste space by welcoming people to your page. There is no need to do so as most users ignore welcome text, viewing it as filler. Get to the meat – that’s what they came for.
5. Use keywords skilfully
Make sure that you choose quality primary and secondary keywords to focus on. For SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), use the same words and phrases your readers do. It’s best to find keywords that your visitors are likely to search for. A top tip is to have a look at your competitors’ sites to see how they use and optimise their content.
When creating page titles, headers, photo tags, list items and links, choose keywords carefully and use them consistently. This practice reinforces keyword relevancy for search engines.
There are plenty of keyword tools available online, such as those offered by SEMrush and Google. Good SEO can be the difference between a site that ranks on the first page of Google and one with no real visibility.
6. Consider your tone of voice
Readers expect a personal, upbeat tone in web writing. They find bureaucratic writing offensive and out of place and are therefore likely to ignore the message it’s trying to convey. To avoid this kind of language, turn the tone down a notch.
- Search out and destroy jargon – write in plain English
- Use an active voice
- Always try to write in first or second person
7. Keep it concise or break it up
Web writing needs to be much shorter than other kinds of writing. Research shows that people scan web text rather than read every word. Make it easy for your users to look for information quickly. A paragraph should consist of 70 words or less.
Writing for the web is NOT the same as writing for a print publication. A page on the web should be half the length of a similar print document; between 300-600 words is reasonable for a page of web content.
What if I have more than 700 words?
Break your content into sections, leading readers to specific portions of the text as much as possible. It’s your job as a web author to guide your audience to the content you want them to consume.
8. Use links intelligently
Take advantage of your users’ short attention span by providing lots of relevant links to explore. This helps your visitor to have a seamless experience, as well as directing them to other content they may be interested in, which saves them time. Internal links should always open in the same window, while we recommend a new window for external outbound links.
If you want to include someone’s email address, link his or her name. If you mention a person, link to their bio page. Don’t make people go and search for something you mention if it already has a page somewhere else.
Search engines will penalise your content for linking with the phrase “click here”, so always make your links contextual, weaving it into your sentence or phrase. Research shows that users like them to be 4-8 words in length.
9. Don’t underestimate simple formatting
Avoid using bold, italics, underlining, headings and indentations unnecessarily. They may be difficult to read from the user’s perspective.
10. Keep content fresh
Outdated web content will confuse your users and make you look lazy. It also degrades the user’s trust in your information. Add fresh content, such as text, images and videos, as often as possible. Make sure your staff and contact information is up-to-date and remove past events from your site. Make your sources available.
11. Always look good
Whenever possible, work with a designer when artwork is required to supplement content. Use a header image that’s relevant to your subject matter. How the website looks is as important as how you sound and come across in your copy.