Writing for the Web Means Following a New Set of Rules
I spent Thursday evening editing a blog post for a new client looking to re-establish his online presence. His original draft contained the primary elements to convey his message, but like many people who don’t write for a living, he struggled to make it ‘blog-worthy.’
What we learned about writing in school is not the same as writing for the web. That’s where I come in. I managed to eliminate two of the four pages of text, establish a conversational tone and craft a succinct message.
Fortunately, my client agreed that the piece flowed much better after my edits, and he was grateful for my explanation about the changes I made.
What I advised him is what I tell everyone who desires to refresh their writing style for the web. Perhaps it can help you, too. Here it goes…
Establish your voice
Blogs are not white papers. Many of us who follow bloggers do so because we know the person, and we like both what they have to say and how they say it.
Blog posts have a conversational tone, and the best blogs are those that offer a unique perspective.
A client of mine is a great example - he’s an elder law attorney with offices in Florida and North Carolina. While others in his field are writing about ‘10 things to put in your will,’ he's writing about how smart seniors do dumb things, a topic that resonates much more with his target market.
Less is more
Make every word count.
In the book Traction, author Gino Wickman tells a story about a previous business partner of his who presented a lengthy business plan to the company. Wickman’s father asked, “Can you condense it to 10 pages?” He did. Then, he asked him to condense it to just two pages. After some frustration, he managed to do so - and the pitch was much better for it.
The simplified approach is generally the best approach. Cut anything unnecessary.
Write for your audience
It’s about them, not you. We should write conversationally, but remember that we're writing for our readers, not ourselves.
Our messaging should be delivered in a way that our audience will best understand and respond to.
For example, in the post I edited for my client, he shared an example of bilingual translation to illustrate his point about communication. While his example wasn't wrong, it was complex. I revised and simplified his example to appeal to his Millennial readership: communication via text message.
Answer: ‘So what and who cares?’
Give people something worth their time.
My college journalism professor said everything we write should answer the questions, “so what and who cares?” If you can’t answer those questions with your content, don’t bother.
If in doubt, use 'RITE' as a litmus test - 'Relevant', 'Interesting', 'Timely', 'Entertaining'.
Craft a strong, enticing headline
If you want people to read your content, you need to tell them why they'd want to.
Your headline is the ‘why’ (or, if done poorly, the ‘why not’), the bait with which to lure readers in. But at the same time, you have to also ensure it’s relevant to the content they're about to consume.
This is important for two reasons - for one, people will be less inclined to read your content again if your headline was merely clickbait. Google's also smart, and will penalize the rankings of your pages if they fail to deliver (based on site visitors clicking away from your page shortly after arriving).
A few hard and fast rules to keep in mind:
- Keep the headline to 60 characters or less
- Create a unique title
- Use keywords - but do not keyword-stuff (Moz explains further).
The same professor who advised us to answer the content questions ‘so what and who cares,’ offered another lesson. In my second year of college, he gave us the opportunity to determine our own grade. As an overachiever, I believe I earned an ‘A’ and wrote that in my final portfolio. He gave me an ‘A-‘ and wrote back, “Rachel…you have a way to go, but you’re on your way.”
This is my takeaway for you: Writing blog posts takes practice, but by consistently employing these strategies, you’ll be on your way.
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