An Introduction to Writing for the Web
Writing for the web is different to writing for a magazine or writing a book. There are several reasons why this is the case. One is that websites need “SEO juice” – the texts need to be carefully written so that they can attract and retain visitors. The short attention span of readers also has an impact – your articles need to be great or the reader will simply click away and go and read something else!
So, not everything you were taught at school is going to work when it comes to writing for the web. And some journalists and experts in writing are not going to agree with everything I state below. But in my opinion, these tips will help you to write better and more engaging web content.
1. Choose a Great Title
The title is extremely important.
It is what attracts visitors to your article in the first place.
It should be catchy, not too short, not too long, include the right keywords, and be specific. Here is a great article from Hubspot that goes into much more detail.
But what type of title works best? According to this fantastically detailed article from CoSchedule, there are 3 types of headlines that tend to get the most traffic:
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So, why not try and include those types of titles in your blog posts? Of course, you don’t need to use one of those for every single blog post you write, and having “Top 10 this” and “Top 10 that” can become a bit repetitive if over-used, but it makes sense to aim for titles that, according to the experts, are going to be effective.
2. Use Headings
It’s a well-accepted fact that people often don’t read the whole article. I think the way people read has changed over time, and “scanning” a text rather than reading it word-for-word would definitely appear to be the norm when it comes to web texts.
So, when you are writing, it is really important to keep this in mind.
That is why it is so important to structure your articles and blogposts correctly.
I have talked about having the right title, but it is also important to have several sub-headings to break the text up into sections, guiding the reader from one idea to another.
Also, if these heading are tagged correctly (often as h2 tags) they are going to help your SEO.
3. Use Clear Language
Whatever the secrets of the Google algorithm, it is probably not capable of understanding the nuances of a carefully-crafted literary text. I don’t think you are going to get extra points for a text that sounds like it has been written by an esteemed novelist.
Of course, I am not saying that you shouldn’t write well. But I think that clear, concise language is going to be more effective than something that is written in a long, sprawling, flowery style. I would also suggest that you avoid over-difficult words that not everyone is going to understand – after all, you are trying to get your message across, and you won’t get any prizes for using complicated vocabulary.
Your approach to language use should also vary depending on your audience, and you should often assume that you are writing for the least experienced or knowledgeable person in that audience. If you are writing for specialists, then it may be OK to use technical language / jargon, but as a general rule don’t overdo it.
4. Write Numbers as Numbers
I was recently talking to a journalist / writer who told me that the rule for writing numbers is that for the numbers 1-10 you should write them out in full (one, two, etc.) and for subsequent numbers you can write them in numerical form (11, 12, etc.)
Well, in my opinion, when it comes to writing for web, you should write all numbers as numbers. So, “Writing for the Web: 8 Simple Guidelines”, for example.
The reason for this is that I am not trying to attain a perfect score in terms of all the grammatical rules associated with the English language, I just want to write in the way that is going to be most effective for my goals: attracting and retaining visitors, providing value, making it easy for them to understand the message etc.
And when it comes to numbers in numerical form, they just stand out from the text a bit more. When someone is scanning the text, it makes it easier for them to pick out the relevant facts, and provides relevant data more easily.
5. Choose the Right Keywords
Taking keywords into account is certainly a big change from writing “normally”. I certainly don’t remember taking keywords into account when writing an essay at school or submitting a report in the early days of my career.
But nowadays, keywords are everywhere. Because they are important. Because using them correctly will help you to attract the right readers, the right potential clients and so on.
So, take the time to focus on choosing the right keywords for a particular article and include them frequently. The key(!) here is finding the right balance.
If you don’t have enough keywords in your text, then it is simply not going to be effective in attracting the right audience. It is not going to stack up or stand out against other articles on the same topic – they are likely to be seen as more relevant than your article due to the better use of keywords.
On the flip side, you should not use too many keywords. A text with too many keywords can look and read like something manufactured / artificial. Your texts should read naturally, they should flow! Adding too many keywords to a text is often referred to as “keyword stuffing” and this is recognized and penalized by Google – too many keywords may result in poor search engine rankings.
6. Include Useful Links
It is always a good idea to include useful links within your articles.
This serves 2 purposes: the first is to provide additional value to your readers and the second is to help with SEO (with additional, relevant links, the Google algorithm will see your articles as more useful).
When including links, I like to include both internal links (to another page on my own site) and external links (to other sites). I find that this balance works well.
7. Add Images
Another point about “writing” for the web is that we are not limited to text-only articles.
We can include images, videos, audio files and, well, any kind of media.
I certainly think it helps to include 1 or 2 images. Images can help to break up the text and make the article more visually appealing.
They also have SEO benefits. When uploading and inserting an image, you should always include the correct tags (especially the alt tag), as this will help boost your SEO value.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that many people will perform a Google image search and if you have suitable images, tagged with the correct keywords, then it is likely that your site will show up in those searches, giving you yet another way in which to attract additional traffic to your site.
8. Add Tags, Categories and Snippets
When it comes to SEO, you should be doing a bit more than just writing the text of your blogpost and then posting it.
You should add categories and tags to give the search engines a bit more information about your text. And you can also make sure that the “snippet” for your blogpost is clear and attractive.
One of the best ways to do this is to use the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress. It’s really easy to install and use, and it helps those who are not SEO experts to manage SEO effectively.
Writing for the Web: Conclusions
Writing for the web usually requires a small adjustment in terms of style and approach. But it’s not difficult to do, and once you are used to it you will be able to write SEO-friendly articles in no time!