How to Get Started as a Web Content Writer

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Months ago I watched Salma Jafferi’s interview on CNBC Pakistan channel (program Ghar ka Kharch). There was too much to learn from her that i subscribed to wordpl emails. Here is one of her article in which she has discussed about getting started as a web content writer. I like the way Salma Jafferi explains things about writing in this article so thought to share with everyone!

To become a web content writer, you basically need two skills:

1. you must be a voracious reader/learner of articles on the web and

2. you must be able to adapt your writing style for the web and constantly practice it

Let’s take a closer look at these two requirements.

How You Read on the Web

The more you read on the web, the more you’ll realize that you, along with everyone else, follow a certain pattern. Your eyes stay in certain parts of the page longer, you tend to skim and scan content more than actually read every single word (as you may perhaps in print), you get intimidated/bored by long pages of unbroken text and you tend to click links that interest you and which may take you several pages away from the page you’re on.

These and other characteristics of reading on the web have been well researched and documented by web usability expert Jakob Nielsen.

I’m going to summarize some of the findings for you here:

  • Web readers typically scan the page in the rough shape of the letter “F”. That means our eyes travel down the length of the left column of the page and dart across the top right section (where the title usually is) and then skim and scan the rest of the content horizontally, perhaps staying a little longer at the sub-headings or pull out quotes breaking up the text.

  • Web readers like to click on interesting links. Links that appear spammy or clearly irrelevant are usually ignored.
  • Web readers like to read simple English. Since people accessing the web come from all walks of life with varying levels of comprehension, the average user is likely to stay and read if the writing is simple, free from jargon, not too lengthy and explains concepts and terms in a clear, simple way.
  • Web readers love lists! They love articles that contain top 10 lists and how-to material presented in numbered list or bullet form simply because it’s easy to quickly scan and consume it
  • Web readers will navigate away from your content if they don’t get the gist of it in the first line or the first paragraph (and sometimes from the title itself!)
  • Web readers generally read text on screen 25% slower than they would in print

So how can you use these characteristics to become a web writer? Simple; we’ll just take the results presented and apply them to our writing.

How to Write for the Web

1. Write a Catchy Title

Since you now know that web readers read the title first, you’ll want to ensure that your web content’s title is catchy, accurate, promising and enticing. Consider these titles: “How to Bake a Cake” vs “How to Bake a Cake in 10 Minutes” vs “How to Bake a Chocolate Malt Cake in 10 Minutes that Kids will Love” Notice how each subsequent title offers more reasons for you to click on it; more benefits, more promise of good information.

The point of your title is two-fold: to get readers to want to read the content that follows and to give search engines something to index your page by. Notice how I’ve used the words “content writing for the web”, “web content writer” etc. throughout this post and in the titles and sub-headings – that’s so that search engines can find these terms in my content and index it so that anyone looking for web content writers will find us more easily.

2. Start with the Conclusion

This might sound like the opposite of what you learned in English essay-writing classes in school, but a long windy opening paragraph will NOT make your content appealing on the web. If it’s not appealing, it won’t be read. And the whole purpose of web content is to be read.

You absolutely must get to the point of your content immediately and then proceed convincingly from there to make your case, give further examples, and make your points. In the web content writing world, this is called the “inverted pyramid” style of writing. Main idea first, details later.

3. Make your Text Visually Appealing

Nowhere is this point more important than on the web. Books without pictures will still be read, but a web page without a single graphic is an eye-sore. And visual appeal need not mean complicated images, but simply good use of white space around your text. That means you MUST break up your text into small paragraphs of 5-7 lines each, use bullets and lists to present linear information, and use images that help illustrate your content.

You can go a few steps further and use charts, tables, flowcharts, info-graphics and other visual data to make your content look appealing to the web reader.

Another way to make your content visually appealing is to add descriptive sub-headings (as I have done in this blog post) – these aid your reader in navigating your content and help you put in keywords for better search engine positioning in strategic locations.

4. Include Hyperlinks!

Outbound hyperlinks (links going to other sites on the Internet) give your readers the option to read more on the subject and shows that you are confident about your research skills and have linked out to quality content. Inbound links (links to other pages on your website) also show readers that you are an authority on your subject and have written more valuable and related information on it.

When linking it is important to use anchor text (like this) rather than naked URLs (like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchor_text). This serves a dual purpose: anchor text links are prettier to look at within the document and provide a better reading experience and they also help in optimizing your content for search engines since links are one of the criteria search engines use to determine the relevancy or otherwise of your content.

Interesting fact!: If you have any doubts about the importance of anchor text links for purposes of SEO here’s an astonishing fact for you: if you search Google for the phrase “click here” the first result to show up will be Download Adobe Reader. This simply means that the instructions to view a PDF file are often accompanied by a link to download the free Acrobat Reader and the anchor text used for that link is almost always “click here”.

Good quality and well-researched links give your readers a quality product and they will appreciate the fact that they can get all pertinent information from one complete document.

5. Use Simple Grade 7 English

I don’t know how many of you have heard of the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test, but it’s a test built into MS Word that gauges the difficulty level of English you’ve written. A high score of 90-100 signifies that your text can be understood by the average 7th grader, and lower scores mean the text is understood by those with higher learning degrees.

For general web articles, you should aim to write for the typical 7th – 9th grader. Obviously this requirement will vary according to your client, their audience and the technical nature or otherwise of the topic.

In general, a good principle to follow is to assume a cursory knowledge of the subject matter and explain and elaborate for the layperson. For example, this post is written for people looking to get started with web content writing, so I’m assuming they already have some idea of what web writing is.

Also, it is extremely important in web content to write directly to your audience. Assume that you are talking and explaining to some one person and write the article as though for them. For example, here I’m assuming that I’m writing to Irum to answer her query. This means using first person (“I”) and second person (“you”) liberally in your content.

Finally, the purpose of most web writing is to encourage users to take certain action or to think in a certain way; for that reason the tone of your writing should be active, enthusiastic and encouraging. There is no room for passive sentences in writing for the web.

Re-Cap of Web Writing Essentials

So to quickly re-cap, here’s the essence of what a page written for the web should contain:

  1. Catchy title with keywords
  2. Starts off strong with the main idea of the article and proceeds convincingly from there
  3. Has visual appeal using sub-headings, lists, images, graphics and white space
  4. Contains both outbound and inbound hyperlinks with anchor text
  5. Is written in a natural, conversational style of writing with active voice

Once the above principles are applied see how an otherwise mundane piece of text comes alive on your web screen (this example taken from useit.com):

Writing for Print Writing for Web
Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions   that draw large crowds of people every year, without fail. In 1996, some of   the most popular places were Fort Robinson State Park (355,000 visitors),   Scotts Bluff National Monument (132,166), Arbor Lodge State Historical Park   & Museum (100,000), Carhenge (86,598), Stuhr Museum   of the Prairie Pioneer (60,002), and Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park   (28,446). In 1996, six of the most-visited places in Nebraska were:

  • Fort Robinson        State Park
  • Scotts Bluff National        Monument
  • Arbor Lodge State Historical        Park & Museum
  • Carhenge
  • Stuhr Museum of the Prairie        Pioneer
  • Buffalo Bill Ranch State        Historical Park

If you’ve mastered these, check out some advanced strategies for writing for the web.

Resources to Learn Web Content Writing

As we covered earlier, writing well is all about reading a lot and writing a lot. So here I’m going to suggest some blogs that you should check out to get started on that reading list. Pick one or two from this list that resonate with you and subscribe to them; there’s tons of great content in them to help you become a better web content writer!

Copyblogger: Copyblogger is one of the best places to start to learn how to write persuasively. Their tutorial on headline writing skills is one of the most comprehensive ones I’ve seen with some great examples. If you’re interested in specializing as a copywriter, their 10 Steps to Effective Copywriting is an awesome starting point.

Aliventures: Ali Luke is a writing coach and professional paid blogger. Check out her blog Aliventures for some great samples on how to write for the web.

AllFreelanceWriting: Jennifer Mattern and her AllFreelanceWriting team excel at all topics related to writing and entrepreneurship; their no-BS approach is a good guide for aspiring web writers.

FabFreelanceWriting: Angela Booth’s Fab Freelance Writing blog offers handy tips, resources and highly motivating articles to help you get started with writing for the web.

AboutFreelanceWriting: And finally Anne Wayman’s AboutFreelanceWriting is not only a great resource for learning to write but also a handy guide to finding the best paying jobs for freelance writers.

Finally, let me know in the comments section what your tips are for writing better web content. Would love to hear from you!

7 responses »

  1. Pingback: How to Get Started as a Web Content Writer | Tea Break

  2. Pingback: Print vs Web – Interesting Facts for the Online Writer « Perfectly Prompted!

  3. Pingback: Creating Content for the Web « Perfectly Prompted!

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