Writing content for the web needs to be as short and sweet and packed full of information as possible.
You have to understand that your “readers” are more likely to be scanners. The Pareto principle is at play here of course: 80% of your readers are looking for information, and gleaning it from 20% of their visit.
“on the average webpage, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely” –Jakob Nielsen
While that sounds great to someone who likes to write to provide large amounts of information, it’s a lot different than what most people were taught in school and requires a different way of thinking from traditional prose.
Writing content for the web requires writing from a new perspective. It abandons a lot of academic and journalistic rules and has become its own style. Your mission is to provide valuable, thoughtful, insightful information to your reader quickly and in small, bite-sized pieces.
Use short sentences.
Don’t use unnecessary words (that especially means jargon).
Don’t repeat yourself.
Write in the second person, meaning use the word “you.”
Use active voice.
Use lists and organize the information.
Use clear headlines and subheadings.
Use images, diagrams, video or multimedia.
Use LOTS of white space. Let your text breathe.
For an English major like myself, this is akin to turning chateaubriand into chicken McNuggets to hand out at the drive-thru. But it’s certainly useful and has its purpose, of course. The style of writing has been formulated not by academics or scholars, but by web designers and developers and SEO experts whose goals are far less poetic.
One topic per page.
George Orwell with Ernest Hemingway in the background
There’s a very visual aspect to writing content for the web, which would delight ee cummings fans and designers alike, but it’s aimed to keep things as simple as possible, and easy to read.
When you write content for the web, a goal you typically have is to have your content seen. Therefore you’re partially writing for Google at the same time you’re writing for consumers.
In essence, writing for the web is a lot like the way that you have to talk to a four-year-old. Keep your message simple. Use small, easy-to-read words and sentences.
Also, realize there is no linearity to the internet. There is no telling where your readers will come from, so write as if the reader has no context.
Use alerts ‘read more’ tags and format your copy to be scannable
If your content is for a landing page, be sure to tell the reader what to do next. Have a call to action telling people where to go next. For example, read another blog post, sign up for your email newsletter, check out your app, get a quote, or just add a product to their shopping cart.
When you format your text, use all the tools at your disposal to make the copy interesting. Highlight it, bold it and throw in a blockquote or two to support it.
And, as illustrated by this article and endorsed by the US government, don’t forget to “chunk” it!
J.D. Salinger working on The Catcher in the Rye while in service in France
If you’re in the marketing business, you surely are familiar with what the marketing landscape looks like online: it’s packed with tools, tips, articles, software, and “pros” offering advice and products to help you learn more about, boost and help you and companies with all types of marketing. Sounds great, right?
Problem is, there are a lot of different types of marketing. Inbound, content, SEO, SEM, digital, automation, branding, product, email, affiliate, and over a hundred more at least. And then subcategories of those. It gets to be messy fast, and marketers being marketers, many of them are in it to make a buck or two. Or a lot more. And the range of knowledge and experience and authenticity of those marketers that want to help you is all over the place. People with no marketing experience at all, who’ve gotten their “skills” from reading other people’s articles, to marketing professors who are into academic marketing, to legitimate digital marketers, to hobbyists, to…. You get the point. A lot of what you see online is about affiliate marketing, which personally I’d put near the bottom of the list of legitimacy, to more academic and B2B marketing/digital that incorporates a bundle of skills which includes SEO, content, SEM, display, and a pretty big marketing mix. That may or may not include developing one or more sales funnels that rely on inbound marketing using platforms like HubSpot and Salesforce. I’d place that somewhere near the top, alongside “academic” marketing, although academia is woefully outdated and out of touch with the realities of practical marketing in the modern world. It’s where much research and marketing studies are generated, alongside consulting firms that release complex case studies like McKinsey.
What you tend to learn in school is purely theoretical, with possibly a few case studies and maybe some real-world experience comprised of teamwork, working on an actual marketing problem that a business is willing to let students work on for free/experience. That’s typically found in graduate-level work at the better schools, and even then, it doesn’t teach you much of anything about real digital marketing whatsoever and what the skills and tools are you need to know to get a job doing it. You have to teach yourself or learn on the job, which is more and more unlikely that you’ll find an employer willing to pay to train you in 2017 when there are a lot of people that already are trained. My tenured professor wife knows nothing about business itself and wouldn’t know what she was even looking at if you showed her a Google Analytics or Infusionsoft dashboard, or anything about SEO at all, for example. It’s the same with law school; it doesn’t teach you lawyering or how to practice law, just the dry research and academic aspects. It’s also why we’re seeing people like Steve Wozniak and organizations/companies like Google funding and setting up schools and other training programs that simply leapfrog underperforming, overpriced colleges that aren’t preparing students for actual work whatsoever.
There’s also a wide range of quality when it comes to marketing programs in Universities as well. Top-tier schools, of course, will offer that in spades, but 80% of marketing degrees come from schools most people have never heard of, in accelerated 1-year programs that aren’t really worth much all. And even if they do offer a respectable opportunity to learn marketing, that’s not to say the students will take advantage of it. I cite my own experience of teaching marketing management at a local University to 35 students as an adjunct professor. The top students were motivated and walked out with some good tools and knowledge. The bottom never bothered to even learn the definition of marketing, even though I told them repeatedly if they only learned one thing in that class, the definition of marketing should be it. And the last question on my final exam was: “What is the definition of marketing?” Guess what? People still got it totally wrong.
So the point is, it’s like wading through an ocean of misinformation and an overabundance of barely-relevant information and tools and advice, much of which contradicts or is poorly-communicated to the point of being utterly confusing. I know this because I’ve spent the past 6+ years online plowing through it all on almost a daily basis. I also have an MBA with a concentration in marketing strategy. I’ve also taught marketing management at the University level, as I mentioned And if that wasn’t enough immersion, I’ve been married to a marketing professor who I traveled alongside with through her Ph.D. program and all which that life entailed. Marketing has been the world I’ve inhabited for nearly a decade. And I’m presently on the hunt for a digital marketing job now myself and am preparing myself for such a role so when I get one, which hopefully is soon, I can hit the ground running in every way.
What I’ve decided to do is create a website that will be the headquarters for a digital marketing hub, with a Facebook page and a Facebook group to supplement it, and grow a community around it for relevant discussion and ideas. It’ll take time to grow organically which I realize — I don’t plan on advertising to grow it or worry about monetizing it or anything, and I’ve built some decent sized communities online before for various concerns like web development and design, so I know what it takes and what to expect. And that’s fine; what that strategy eventually yields is high-quality and manageable, which are among the most important criteria.
Plus I think it’ll not only be fun but will serve as a great resource for my new digital marketing job. If I get the one that I really want and think I have a great shot at, it’ll be perfect. And it’ll be something rewarding I can share and work on as a highly productive side project as well.
So if you’re into digital marketing or any type of “legitimate” marketing, come take a look, join and participate! And let me know what you think; criticism and ideas are the driving force behind its growth and quality standards. There will be tools, tips, strategy, discussion and marketing resources galore.
If you blog you’re familiar with WordPress and most likely Medium. WordPress has been around for over 10 years and is a mature platform. Medium is younger and was launched by Ev Williams of Twitter and has become a publishing platform for both amateur and professional writers. There are, of course, other platforms like Wix, Weebly, Blogger, Drupal, Squarespace, and Joomla, which are different variations of basically the same thing.
I’ve been using WordPress for over 7 years and follow its development closely. I use it nearly exclusively for client’s websites and consider myself an expert at it. “WordPress” as an entity is sort of a mess, in my opinion, which I’ve written about in depth before. I’ve also talked about how, back when Medium was a different product, is WordPress’ main competitor, and not Drupal and Joomla as most people believed a few years ago. With the unveiling of WordPress’ new editor Gutenberg, it’s now evident that Matt Mullenweg et al. agree.
Ev Williams keeps changing the interface of Medium, and most users seem to applaud his efforts. That’s a play on words since the latest Medium update includes “claps” to show love and appreciation for writers’ work instead of thumbs-ups and downs. Basic gamification strategy.
Matt and WordPress do things a little differently. They make huge changes despite what the core users and customers think, and those are two very different and large groups of people. In my opinion, he’s not only risking having people defect but start up competing CMS/blogging platforms(WP can’t decide what it is). There’s a HUGE market out there which WordPress is trying to fully dominate, despite not ever putting forth a material plan for doing so. Iterate and pray seem to be the daily plan, and let other developers work on it for free as open-source software is the long-term plan. The profitable markets that have spun off in the form of plugin and theme shops, WordPress developers, and other niche businesses are what keep it propped up more than anything, and is what Medium and other competitors are missing. Medium has a payout scheme for popular writers, but that’s a small market comparatively. WordPress’ model isn’t unlike Apple’s app store, which is responsible for Apple’s astounding rise to financial and market dominance.
I have a feeling someone soon will create a platform that will take a large chunk of market share from Medium and WordPress. Ghost had the potential and still does to an extent, but it needs to become much more user-friendly and be marketed much more aggressively. I’m a big fan of Ghost and hope John and Hannah, the founders, succeed. Bootstrap could even come to be in the CMS/blogging space one day, although I don’t think that’s what Mark Otto and the Bootstrap community are aiming for, or is it the core competency. Bootstrap as a development framework is awesome and has a really big, and growing, development base. It’s the biggest repo on Github and has been for a long time. I’ve even published a lengthy book on developing with it, back when it was “Twitter Bootstrap.”
WordPress enjoys being a first-mover, although they weren’t really the “first” to offer an open-source blogging platform. They just emerged as the most popular back in the days of blogging infancy and took some bloggers and newbie developers along for the ride to make them pretty wealthy along the way. That’s given WordPress/Automattic/Matt a lot of wiggle-room and revenue to make mistakes without getting crushed, which is a good thing considering the noticeable lack of leadership at the top. There may be a vision but it isn’t made very clear to anyone, and the heaviest users of WP like to know what the roadmap contains beyond the next update or two because they come fast. And WP needs to be backward-compatible and is legacy software.
Gutenberg is all the WordPress world can talk about, which as I predicted years ago, is a response to Medium. Here’s a white paper by Human Made, and Medium is mentioned on the second page of the thing. It’s sort of a disingenuine piece. The author asks why did they decide to build Gutenberg, and then never answers the question. He calls it an “experiment” which of course it isn’t. It’s a strategy. You don’t experiment with something as crucial as the essence of the core product at this scale and Matt knows it. Ironically, the “blocks” direction which is the core concept of the new editor, keeps making me think of the Thesis theme, which very well may have just been ahead of its; time. The story of Thesis is rich. Not as Rich as Matt, unfortunately for Chris Pearson.