How to Write for the Web: Part 2
In How to Write for the Web: Part 1, we mastered using the inverted pyramid, writing in short paragraphs, making your content easily scannable, and taking the proper amount of time to edit. But there’s still so much to learn, my young grasshoppers. So join me for part 2 of How to Write for the Web.
As I said in the last tutorial, people read differently on the Internet — and they don’t read everything on the Internet the same way either. You don’t read a New York Times article the same way you read a celebrity tweet or a Facebook post or an WikiHow guide. Therefore, the way you write should reflect the way your audience expects to read.
While this is a writing tutorial, a lot of writing on the Web can be improved with a basic a understanding of how the Web works. This certainly isn’t an ‘advanced’ tutorial — especially in an age where people have grown up with the Internet — but we will be getting ever so slightly techie here.
Consider the Constraints of the Medium
Constraints, as I described in the tutorial on the Rhetorical Situation, are those things that help define how you’re going to write. Just as MLA is a style guide for writing term papers and AP is a style guide for journalism, large websites like Wikipedia or Buzzfeed also have their own style guides, and if you want to write for one, it would behoove you to write according to their preferred style.
For example, if you’ve got an idea for an article for Cracked.com, it sure as heck better be a list (e.g. Top 5 Reasons Blahdeeblah is Totally Zmarf!). It’s also going to need a certain amount of jokes per paragraph, and you’re going to need to make sure the references for your totally interesting facts are available to link to online. Book references and anecdotal evidence aren’t going to fly there.
And this goes beyond words. Believe it or not, not everyone loves reading as much as you and I. Pictures can really help break up the monotony of text, but if you’re posting a picture on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, you’ll want to make it’s in an aspect ratio that won’t get cut off at the top or bottom. Especially if you’ve got important information there.
There are websites that can help you find the answers to these questions (just Google around), but you have be be conscious enough to ask the question in the first place. What are the constraints of my medium?
Consider ‘Search Engine Optimization’ When Creating a Title and Intro
Search Engine Optimization (or more simply, SEO) is a whole field of study based around turning clicks into profit. Businesses spend thousands of dollars paying marketing experts to help make their websites more search engine friendly, but we’re not going to get into all that here.
For our purposes, there are a few very basic changes you can make in your writing style to help make it more appealing to people clicking on it via link or searching for it via search engine:
- Front-load title information: Studies have shown that there is a huge dropoff in people reading past the first 2 words of a title, so phrase your titles in a way that puts the most important bits first.
- Be concise: Look at what your website looks like on a Google search. Look at the title, and look at the blurb under it. Any information hidden behind an ellipsis may as well not be there at all.
- Use descriptive words, not keywords: There’s a big difference between using words in a title or intro that accurately describe the content of your article, and clickbatey grammatical nonsense. Avoid the latter.
Hyperlinks are the best friend of someone building a reputation on the Internet. They’re a great way to improve your SEO, direct people to other things you’ve written, and even provide a bit texture to your paragraphs to break of the monotony of gray text.
Firstly, hyperlinks are loved by search engines because they are the connective tissue of the Internet. Search engines use these things called spiders to crawl the Internet and find out what content they should be including on their search results. They’re called spiders because they crawl the Web. Get it? Links coming in and leading out of a webpage tell those spiders that your website is an important part of the grand conversation happening on the Internet, so they’ll rank your webpage higher on search results.
Hyperlinks don’t only improve your SEO though. They also tell readers what other content they might like to read. These are called internal links, and they’re a great way to create a more fluid network within your own website or blog. Wherever you have relevant content your readers might find interesting, throw a hyperlink up in there.
As for how, when you’re inserting a link into a block of text standard procedure is to start on a verb and make sure the highlighted words are descriptive enough to give the reader an idea of where the link will take them without having to click on it. I like to think of in as another way of making text bold.
Invite Readers to Join the Conversation
Personally, I hate comments sections and avoid them at all costs, but that’s something for my therapist and I to sort out. In practice, comments are generally useful for bloggers, vloggers and other online writers as long as they put the effort into establish a civil tone.
Audience participation helps you build a community. So ending your post with a question for readers, inviting readers to tweet something, or just generally engaging your readers is great way to start a conversation, get readers to come back, and even give you ideas for new topics to write about.
If you foster a supportive and intelligent community, comments can end up really helping you make your writing even better. Commenters can be great fact-checkers (even if they’re not always tactful…or factual for that matter). Your community can engage in discussion and debate that can lead to new information expanding on the topic of your post.
A lot of the topics covered here are easier said than done, but hopefully I’ve been able to give you a jumping off point to really get you thinking about how to make your web content more appealing to readers. Be sure to check out Part 1 of my How to Write for the Web series, and if you have any tips you would like to add feel free to say so in the comments. I won’t be reading them.