Tips on Writing for the Web

Somehow I do end up working with a fair amount of writers that are new to online writing. These are tips for those writers out there who don’t have a lot of experience writing for the web. Admittedly, some of the writing on this site could use this advice as well – but I have never considered myself a writer – and self improvement is about the journey too.

Be Concise

If you have experience in print media, start by cutting it in half in terms of word count. Better yet, drop the idea of word count altogether and just get the point across as quickly as possible. Especially in product or transactional sites, your words are a bridge to what people want. “Delicious free beer to those who act today” is too much. “Free beer today” will most likely do the job.

Write for a Task Oriented Medium

Not that people aren’t looking to accomplish tasks in print, but the expectations of fulfilling a need with interactive media are much higher. Tone, voice and everything else needs to have a concrete objective in mind. If you want them to click on something then make them do it.

Descriptive Linking

Contrary to the idea of being concise, there are a host of advantages to making any inline linked text as descriptive as possible. It’s a way to give a rather sparse part of the experience some context and context is everything. “Click Here” and “Read More” are huge no-nos. Make the title clickable instead.

Link and Page “Title” Alignment

I always tell writers to think of this as a form of question and answer session. If I click on a link or button that says “Fathers Day Gift Ideas” the human perception of the page title that follows should match what I just clicked. We shouldn’t be taken to a page with a principal heading with something like “Gift Sets For Dad.” Note that html page titles that appear in the browser aren’t so clear cut, and the experience varies from browser to browser, but for SEO purposes it’s probably a good idea to match these also. If you’re getting to this problem, you’re doing pretty well because it means you’re going beyond the writing.

Keywords Don’t Count Like They Used To

In fact they only really count in terms of indexing from a machine perspective. Peppering your copy with keywords will never skyrocket you to the top of Google rankings. Be clear, and think of offering great information people can’t do without. You’ll have much better results.

Titles and Subheadings a Computer Would Understand

Being cute and vague might get a tacit response but it rarely is a good substitute for information. Part of effective writing for the web is laying out a hierarchy of information that a computer would understand. In titles and subheadings you might want to think in terms of a keyword or two – but don’t go crazy. If I am writing a story on tropical disease prevention for a pharma compan, a subheading like “Development and Distribution” tells me absolutely nothing. If you take it out of context will people still get the overall idea?

Familiarize Yourself with the Concept of Microcontent

I’ll be the first to admit Jakob Nielsen is a real snore when it comes to user experience. But if you are a writer you need to know what this is. Certainly not his concept – and the definition varies depending on who you ask. This is the offsides rule of writing for the web, as long as you’re aware it’s out there and the basics of how it works you’re already way ahead.

Write Nodes, not Pages

Stop thinking about writing number of pages or what goes on what page. Scribble out the information the site needs. A good architect will make decisions about where it all goes. Think of a site as chunks of information that make up a whole. There are no pages.

Avoid “Zombie Copy”

Erin Kissane’s assault on the vague, inane and nonsensical is better than my caveman fingers can muster up.

Write for Those of us Who Can’t Figure it Out

Everyone knows how to read a newspaper. When they get to your site the have to figure out how to use it. Design conventions go a long way, but give them whatever help you can.