vintage typewriter - mbm

Writing Content for the Web

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.

 

Orwell and Hemingway
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
J.D. Salinger working on The Catcher in the Rye while in service in France