Every second, Google receives 40,000 search queries, translating to 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. Increasingly, the world comes to the internet to find information, answers, suggestions, and even opinions – and at the core of the solution to each of these queries is text matter.
The internet has replaced the dictionary, the encyclopedia, and the newspaper. But have writers, copywriters, and journalists optimized their content for the web? A lot of language education still revolves around pre-digital era media. For example, in school, we learn to write letters (not emails), create monologues for a speech competition (not scripts for podcasts), and read novels and essays (not eBooks and blogs).
While there’s definitely value to be derived from these pursuits, today’s content writers need to be able to tweak these skills and adapt to what works for the web. Whether you consider yourself a novice writer or are an accomplished freelancer, following these tips can help you learn how to write search engine-friendly, accessible and lucid content for the web.
- Good web content vs. bad web content
Good content effectively communicates its intended message to its intended audience,
i.e., good content is measured by its effectiveness. To understand how web content is perceived, take a look at this comparison between web and print.
|Understanding the web||Understanding print|
|How does the text appear to a reader?||Text on digital screens is harder to read due to color, luminosity, flicker, and glare. As a result, reading online is 10% to 30% slower.||Text on print is not strainful to the eye. |
But there is no control over how the text appears, i.e., font size, color, or type.
|How does a user read? Tracking the eyeball.||Web readers scan a page, i.e., they scroll down the page searching for keywords to find the exact information they need.||Print reading is less task-oriented, where readers can take time to extract maximum information.|
|User behavior||Task-orientedProblem-solvingImpatient and criticalAverse to long-form content that requires scrolling||Detail-orientedKnowledge-seekingAttentiveDoes not mind or actively seeking long-form content|
Conclusion: Brevity is key when it comes to web content. Aim to make your copy scannable, concise, and objective.
Effective web content is:
- Clear and concise: Write to the point and avoid jargon and acronyms.
- Short: Make each sentence brief and memorable.
- Active: Write in such a way that a user is tempted to take action.
- Positive: Talk about what can be done, not about what can’t be done.
- Specific: Address one particular challenge or issue at a time. Address the audience and convey empathy over sympathy.
Take a look at the examples below and note the possible impression it creates on you.
Which support team are you most convinced by?
|Text||Tone of Voice||Possible impression|
Our technically efficient support team will ensure that your website is live round the clock without any glitch. They are there to guide, assist and help you with the process of hosting your website and more.
|Technical, verbose, distant – refers to support team in the third person||Quite “salesy”|
|24/7 Managed WordPressHosting Support|
Our in-house team is always at hand to help you grow your presence online. You can reach out to us via chat or phone 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
|Concise, action-oriented, personal yet professional||Easy to understand. Prompts trust-building through action.|
|24/7 AWARD WINNING SUPPORT|
Leave all your website hosting worries to us.
|Informal and non-technical||Salesy and vague but attention-grabbing|
Tip: For new writers, reading your work aloud is the best way to get used to web writing. If you find yourself sounding jargony with words that have no flow or are vague and inconsistent, then you should change the structure of a sentence.
- Following the tone of voice principles
Grammarly users receive a mail once a week that shows stats on “Tone”.
But what is tone, and why is it important for effective web write-ups?
To understand tone, take a look at the examples below.
The Soul Tree cosmetics brand focuses on the use of natural ingredients. Their target audience is likely to be older women (mostly professionals) who don’t mind spending some extra bucks on getting the best treatment for their skin.
Tone Of Voice: To the point, subtle, informative, neutral
In contrast, ColourPop is an affordable skincare brand that focuses on fun colors. Their target audience is likely to be younger women (mostly teenagers and college students) who are constantly searching for the latest or trendy products.
Tone Of Voice: Evocative, exciting, cheerful, friendly, and conversational
Neither is wrong nor right, or good or bad. The content on the website simply reflects the voice or personality of their audience.
Tip: To understand the tone you must follow, read existing content on a website before starting your work. Try to emulate the website’s “personality” as much as possible. Check out the brand’s social media pages to research the target audience. Make conclusions about the intended readers:
You should also pay attention to the goal of your write-up. For example, writing a message about your 24X7 customer service aims to ‘reassure’ readers and gain trust. Writing copy for a discount coupon aims to ‘encourage’ readers to buy products.
You can think of goals as action words:
- Making text scannable and search engine-friendly
As mentioned before, web readers tend to scan pages rather than read word by word. So here’s how you can make your text scannable:
- Break topics into headings and subheadings
- Keep the length of paragraphs limited to 3-5 sentences
- Use lists for items belonging to the same category
- Use tables to present data and make comparisons
- Use bold, underline, capitals and italics to provide emphasis (must be used sparingly)
- Distribute keywords throughout the piece. Do not stuff keywords in one or two paragraphs.
- Make it simple and easy to understand
Web readers are impatient as they are eagerly looking for answers. As a result, you need to write in plain English so that it’s easy to parse.
Tip: Follow these golden rules for writing simply:
- Use everyday words
- Never use two words when one will do. For example, very beautiful vs. gorgeous
- Avoid foreign words.
Carpe diem. Cul de sac. Ad hoc.
- Avoid nominalizations (i.e., turning verbs into nouns), e.g., use ‘to engage staff’ instead of ‘to ensure the engagement of staff.’
- Use active voice
- Optimize for clarity and conciseness
Writing with clarity means removing all potential causes of confusion and misunderstanding.
Tip: Here are some rules for writing clearly:
- Avoid clichés, buzzwords, and metaphors
- Avoid jargons
- Provide the full names of acronyms and abbreviations
- Write instructions in the imperative form – e.g. ‘Fill out this form to apply.’ Not ‘If you wish to apply, please complete the form below.’
7. Ensuring quality
Before you hit the publish button, it’s important to check the quality of your work. Here are some tools you can use for the same:
- Check grammar using Grammarly
- Check readability using the Hemingway app
- Edit your work only after a gap of one to two hours. You will read the content with fresh eyes.
- Support all your facts and statistics with sources. Make sure you have linked the right pages.
- Find areas where you can link content within your website.
- Be open to criticism and rework. More often than not, your editor, manager, or client is simply trying to ensure consistency across the board. Remember that most websites are collaborative efforts, not one man’s work.
With these key how-tos, you’re now well equipped to be a better web writer. Practice your way with words, and you’ll soon be able to follow these rules like its muscle memory.