Writing for the Web

I’ve been writing professionally for 35 years – everything from ad copy to video scripts to novels (3 with 1 published). More to the point, I’ve been writing content for websites since 1997. So what makes writing for the web unique?

Let’s start with the similarities:

  • All effective writing, regardless of the medium, is storytelling.
  • A clear, concise style with an emphasis on short sentences is most effective.
  • Headlines matter.

Website Requirements:

  • Write straight forward headlines- unlike advertising copywriting, which relies on clever to “breakthrough” the clutter, there is no time for clever headlines on a website. Visitors will not take the time to figure out what point you’re making. Instead, your main headline should clearly state what the website is all about and sub-heads should introduce new thoughts or sections.
  • Layer your content – Most everyone first skims a web page. So if you all you’re presenting is a long narrative, people won’t be able to make up their minds quickly enough. And when that happens online, they go elsewhere. So use headlines, sub-heads and bullet points liberally. Bold key messages and also be generous with your use of links.
  • Plan your keywords and phrases – sounds ominous but it’s really just common sense. In school we were taught to outline our thoughts before starting our narrative. Formulating keywords is no different. Each page of your website should have a focus (preferably just one). Before you begin to write for that page, jot down the words that best describe what you’re about to write, then make sure to use those words in your narrative.
  • Tell a whole story on each page
  • – this is the toughest thing to learn about developing web content. Unlike a book or a movie or even a 60-second ad, the web is a non-linear medium. In other words, the visitor controls the visit and can visit pages in whatever sequence he or she prefers. This means each page needs it’s own beginning, middle and end.

Of course there are other differences, but if you can master these, your website will have a better chance of meeting your objectives.


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