Since I first created a Bebo account in junior school, writing online has been part of my life, for better or (usually) for worse. But whilst I have always been writing online, only recently in my digital life have I learned to write for online.
If the print reader sips their tea whilst leafing lazily through the entertainment section of their favourite daily paper, the online reader skims skittishly through 4 articles a minute before downing a double espresso and checking all social media accounts like a junkie.
Whether you blame it on social media, or the development of an on-demand society, online readers are looking for something short, sweet and memorable. Your job is to create it.
Keep it Brief – The last thing the reader wants is to sift through a hefty chunk of clunky word vomit on their way to work, that’s what they’ll likely be doing all day anyway. Keep things short but informative. Simple yet valuable. Short sentences give your writing a snappy cadence that makes the reader do less work.
The same goes for paragraphs. Keep them to around four lines or less. One of George Orwell’s rules for quality writing was to emit needless words wherever possible. If there’s a word that isn’t adding value, or in some cases; a whole sentence, then get rid. You’ll often find you never needed it in the first place.
Make it Scannable – The online reader might not have time to read your entire article on the importance of Bees. But they might be intrigued about how they make honey. To prevent them leaving your page and googling “how do bees make honey?”, be sure to add headings and lists to your article. This way, the reader can scan the page and easily find the honey orientated section.
Always assume that the reader will scan-read your piece, looking for nuggets of information. This will ensure that you lay out your writing logically with clear indicators for key information you are trying to convey.
Listicles are ideal for scan readers, but don’t fall into the trap of relying solely on these short form pieces, as they will lower the overall quality of your content if overused.
Use Plain English – Jargon and technical language might appear to elevate your copy to a position of authority, but in reality it tends to alienate and bore. Jargon has no place in copy that is aimed at the consumer.
Using plain english makes your copy inclusive, widening its appeal. You’ll reach more readers and they’ll effortlessly glide through your piece. Your job as a writer is to transfer information to the reader and you can’t do that effectively when they don’t understand your writing.
Interesting > Uninteresting – Yes, this might seem incredibly obvious but bear with me. So many articles don’t perform as well as they could, for the simple reason that the writer is burying interesting information four or five paragraphs in.
When you’re writing for an audience that currently has the concentration span of a 6 year old, you need to present your most intersting hooks at the beginning of your copy. then continue to lure the reader through the article will other smaller tidbits of information that keep them informed, intrigued or entertained.
Joe Sugarman, direct sale copywriting legend, once said, “The sole purpose of the first sentence in an advertisement is to get you to read the second sentence of the copy.” Writing with your strongest and most interesting points first tells the reader that this is an article they want to read, one they want to see to the end.
Take Care of the Boring Stuff, and it Will Take Care of You – SEO: Metadata, URLs, Keywords and HTML formatting are the subframe of your article. This props up your beautifully crafted copy and ensures that you rank in relevant searches so your article can reach its full potential.
In the same way that you wouldn’t mount a Maybach body on a rusty tricycle frame, you don’t want to create a digital literary masterpiece, only to have it fall flat due to the absence of technical structure. There are many ways to learn about SEO, or you can get a professional to go through your site and show you how to build and maintain good SEO practices.
Implement these rules in your writing and you should start to see an improvement immediately. Higher engagement, better SEO performance and most importantly better writing.
Whilst we should pay careful attention to the technical performance of our work, the quality of writing and the genuine value the reader obtains from our work should always be of paramount importance to the copywriter, it is the ultimate goal of our work.