5 01 2011
Writing for the Web
Website content, ezines, articles, e-books – if you run an online business you’ll probably do your fair share of writing. If you’re not entirely confident about your writing abilities, don’t worry. You can master writing for the Web and learn to turn out clean, clear, and convincing copy. You just need to understand the nature of the Web and always write with your reader in mind. Here are some guidelines to get you started:
Get organized. Create an outline of the entire site before you begin to help you stay organized as you write, and work from that outline to create each page. Start out with general information and progressively get more detailed and specific as you go on. Tackle your subject systematically and lead toward a logical conclusion.
Make it easy to read. Computer monitors are considerably more difficult to read from than the printed page. Don’t overwhelm your readers with endless lines of text. Instead, break it up into logical sections and paragraphs. Formatting text in columns rather than lines as wide as the screen will make it easier to read. Use eye-catching headings to emphasize important points and key concepts.
Get to the point. Go straight to the point in your opening paragraph – tell the reader what you’re writing about and how they will benefit from reading it. Grab your readers’ attention and motivate them to read on. People are busy and there’s plenty of competition for their time and attention, so let them know what’s in it for them and why they should stick around to read on.
Write for your readers. The right perspective is the reader’s perspective. People visit a website because they want information and want it fast, so give them what they came for. Instead of focusing on what you want to tell them, tell them what they want to know. Ask yourself what kind of person is likely to be reading what you write, and tailor your writing to that group. Don’t use any technical terms your audience might not be familiar with. You want to come across as knowledgable without talking down to your readers.
Keep it short. When it comes to writing for the Web, less is more. Reading from a computer monitor is relatively taxing on the eyes, so be concise. Make sure you’ve covered your subject thoroughly but concisely. Paragraphs should be relatively short (generally, three to five sentences). If your subject can’t be covered thoroughly enough in a short article or on a Web page, split it up into two articles or Web pages.
Stay focused. Stay focused on the main idea you want to express in each paragraph or section. After you’ve finished, reread what you’ve written to make sure you haven’t strayed from your topic. If you find you’ve digressed or gone off on a tangent, cut the extra material for use in another article. Your content should closely match your title or heading and introduction (in other words, make sure you’ve given the reader what you promised.
Be yourself. Be conversational but professional. Formality and “corporate speak” seem out of place on the Web, unless you happen to be marketing exclusively to executive types. Otherwise it’s fine to speak in the first person and share your own viewpoints. Letting your own personality shine through and sharing your own experiences is a great way to build a relationship with your readers.
Don’t come on too strong. We’ve all seen those websites that are trying too hard. Hyped up sales copy, excessive exclamation points, and text in too many different sizes and fonts are more likely to motivate the reader to leave immediately than to buy the product. Accentuate the positive, but don’t exaggerate or make exorbitant claims or promises you can’t keep. Instead of going for the hard sell, let your products speak for themselves. Stick to features, benefits, and objective comparisons with your competitors’ products.
Think globally. Remember, it is called the World Wide Web, after all, and your site could be viewed by visitors who have many different native languages, cultures, religions, and values. For that reason write for a broad audience. Photographs and language that are acceptable in the United States might be offensive to citizens of more traditional or conservative countries. Humor can liven up your site, but make sure the jokes are in good taste and won’t be construed as sexist, racist, or derogatory toward any group.
Check your work. Little mistakes have a way of standing out, and even one glaring mistake can undermine your professional image. Proofread your copy very carefully, more than once, and ideally have someone else proofread it as well. In particular, watch out for spelling and grammatical errors, missing punctuation, omitted or duplicated words, and poorly constructed sentences. Using your spell checker will help, but it’s no substitute for careful reading by a human. You might find it’s easier to spot errors in your text if you print it out and read it.
Get another opinion. Recruit a few friends or colleagues who aren’t overly familiar with your products and company to give you their opionions on what you’ve written. Could they understand your description of your product(s)? Was your explanation of the benefits and selling points convincing? Were they left with any unanswered questions? Be open to their criticisms and questions and use their feedback to fine tune your copy.
Consult a pro. You might have something worthwhile to say but that doesn’t mean you necessarily have a talent for writing compelling copy. If writing just isn’t your strong suit, don’t hesitate to enlist the help of a professional to help you get your thoughts down on paper. Depending on your own abilities, you might call in a proofreader, editor or even a “ghost writer” to help you convert your ideas into professional-looking copy.
Jane McLain is a Web developer and SEO specialist and the webmaster of EClaunchsite.com, an online resource center for netrepreneurs with tools and information to help you plan, build, launch and grow your e-business.