I’m not a great writer.
I am, however, a very good online writer.
There’s a difference: my writing will most likely never make you weep. But my writing will entertain you, inform you, offer you interesting ideas and solutions, and make you stay for a while rather than quickly click away.
Writing for the Internet is very different than writing for offline publications. Sure, when writing web copy you should follow basic spelling, grammar and punctuation rules. Your writing should never be sloppy. But it needs to be attractive to Internet users, which is quite different than being attractive to print readers.
The following are a few basic rules for writing web copy that works.
Web copy needs to be scannable
Research suggests that people do not read websites. They quickly scan them, looking for info. If the web page can’t be scanned, they often lose patience and click away.
This became apparent when I read the comments to my article on retouching, posted to my personal blog a few weeks ago.
Almost all the readers who left a comment assumed that I was the one who had done the retouching discussed in the article. Only a handful of readers actually read the entire article, thus learning that it was my friend who did the retouching. I could never do the retouching that she did – I’m way too lame when it comes to Photoshop.
Was I annoyed to realize that people do not read my articles? Of course not. I specialize in writing web copy. I know exactly how people approach a web site. I do the same.
Keywords should be repeated
When writing for the web, you’re writing for people, but search engines are never too far from your mind. One of the best ways to let search engines know what your article is about, is including keywords in your article. This means that if your article is about “writing web copy,” but the key phrase “writing web copy” only appears once in the entire article, your article is not going to rank very well in search engine results and people won’t be able to find it, even if it’s very good and highly informative.
When writing offline, one of your goals is to avoid repeating the same word. When writing for the Internet, one of your goals is to repeat the same keyword several times throughout your article. However, you don’t necessarily want to repeat the exact same word – it’s a good idea to include a few variations on your main keyword throughout your article. This brings more search engine traffic than just repeating the same keyword over and over again.
Avoid Clever Titles
When writing for the web, your titles should not be clever. They should be meaningful. This is because while you are writing mainly for people, you are also writing for search engines. Suppose you’re writing an article on “Writing Web Copy,” but decide to give your article a fun, clever title such as “This Writing Style Is Driving Me Crazy.” Generally speaking, this will not work well on the Internet, because you will not rank well for your main keyword, so people won’t find your article via search engines. Even if they do find your article, they’ll be less likely to click on it, because they’ll assume it’s not relevant to their search.
Not too short, not too long
Web copy needs to be concise. Wordiness is a major vice when writing for the web. While a 300-word article is usually too short for offline publications, it is the perfect length for the web. As a blogger for hire, I charge more for longer articles, but I always tell my clients there’s really no reason to pay more for them. This article, by the way, is longer than I like my articles to be. It is about 700 words long.
Jacob Weisberg, Slate’s second editor, recently said, “The tone of good web writing grows out of email. It’s more direct, personal, colloquial, urgent, witty, efficient. It doesn’t waste your time. It reflects that engagement, responsiveness and haste of web surfers, as opposed to the more general passivity of print readers.”
Writing web copy using this direct, witty, efficient tone is what I aim to do on my own blogs, and when writing for my clients.