Part 1 of 2: Communicate clearly, drive action, and offer SEO value.
Writing isn’t math
There is no “one right way” or equations such as “If you do X, then Y will occur” when it comes to writing advice. And there are no magic combinations of words or perfect ways to write headlines that instantly compels users to buy into your solution or to fill out a contact form. However, there are guidelines and information for writing content for the web that do not seem widely known. Let’s talk about what to consider before you actually write anything, the structure and style of your content, and how to actually get your writing found on the web—leaving you with the tools to create effective web copy that drives conversion.
How people read on the web
As much as writers don’t want to admit it—the majority of web users are skimmers and headline readers. They are mission minded and goal oriented. They race by content well above the speed limit, barely glancing at the billboards and rarely slowing down to read the details.
Now before you throw up your hands and scream, “Why am I even writing this then!” know that while the bulk of your visitors will skim, those researching with the intent to buy your solution will pore over every word.
Reading on the web is much different from reading in any other medium. Some factors to consider are:
- Reading distance on paper is about 10” — a monitor distance could be triple that.
- The amount of content you are able to view on a piece of paper may be three to four times what you’re able to view on a monitor.
- Reading online is disruptive when moving between pages/columns.
What does this mean?
Knowing web users are mission-minded and have difficulty consuming large chunks of content on the web tells us we only have a limited amount of time to grab a user’s attention and get our message across—and we must be strategic about it.
Before you write: Inspiration
Whether writing for a client or your own business, the first obvious step is to assess the goals of this content and start asking yourself questions. What’s the point here: to provide information to improve ranking and credibility? Is there a specific call to action on the page that you want to push users toward? Who’s going to be reading this?
Keeping these questions in mind—start thinking about the central topic. Then, either with a software program or pen and paper, begin mind mapping your ideas. Create your headline first and put it in the middle, branching out ideas and subheads from there. Your subheads should include enough information so scanners can get the gist while also being intriguing enough so they’ll want to dig deeper to learn more. Once you’ve got a basic outline created from your mind map, stop. Walk away, work on something else, anything. Let things fester a while, and you’ll be surprised at the creativity and inspiration lurking deep in your brain.
Before you write: Swipe files
Oh, the deadline is today, and you don’t have time to let premature topic ideas blossom in your brain? You need inspiration now—something clever and effective that makes the body copy just fall into place. Try consulting or finding swipe files (a collection of headlines, ads, postscripts, brochures, SEO phrases, and guarantees taken from your existing, effective work or lifted off the web). Professional copywriters use swipe files to ignite creativity and enthusiasm for a project, and they can provide an essential starting point for new web copy campaigns.
Structure: Subheads galore and bite-sized chunks
I’ll reiterate, as you probably only scanned this article, but most web users are skimmers and headline readers. Breaking up your content with subheadings is crucial to keeping eyes on the page and readers engaged. Readers should be able to quickly decide what content interests them and what to avoid. Considering the difficulties people have reading on the web versus print, try to keep paragraphs and sentences as short as possible (easier said than done). This will help prevent eye confusion if the reader is following long passages.
Style: Accessible and customer focused
Unless you’re writing about an extremely technical subject, try to write at a level that is understandable to the widest audience possible. Studies place the average reading level of U.S. adults around the ninth grade, while most novels are written at a seventh-grade reading level, according to Flesch-Kincaid readability test. Adapt your word choice and sentence structure to allow readers to easily consume the message. And remember, you’re not writing this for your boss. Focus on the information potential customers need from their perspective. Ditch or at least bury the mission statements and self-serving company visions and keep in mind that users are only interested in one thing: trading their money for solutions to their own problems.
Process: Quality over quantity
It’s temping to churn out five mediocre articles a week rather than one really well researched article. Don’t do that. Consistent quality content is the cornerstone of online business. One powerful, well-written article can generate much more buzz and traffic than can five dull regurgitations of other articles that fade into the Internet ether. We recommend tackling certain tasks for a writing project on certain days (see below). Stagger the start dates of additional projects to ensure you’re not doing the same task for multiple projects on the same day—that would become exhausting and tedious.
Is Anyone Even Going to Read This?
Check out Part Two of this series where we go into great depth on how to get your content found on the web. Including:
- Google+ Authorship to boost search results
- Strategies for link building on landing pages
- Promoting content on social networks
- How to build and boost your online authority