Writing “rich content” for the web does not equate to writing “many words.” The phrase refers to high quality, keyword rich information, but its meaning and successful application can be elusive. The following tips offer a bit of helpful guidance.
Style matters as much as Clarity as much as Meaning
- In the cyber world of online marketing and massive knowledge sharing, one’s writing undergoes the same level of scrutiny as in print. Poorly developed or illogical content weakens presentation and can be a turn-off to site visitors, causing them to exit a website rapidly. Deflecting visitors can impact search rankings, but worse, can cause a decline in business.
- Some view web content writing as a mere exercise in creative writing. The assumption might work out for those who’ve endured the rigors and discipline of workshops or journalism classes, but the uninitiated may want to beware. Long and winding sentences rife with adjectives, disparate, unrelated clauses, and overcomplicated verbs may sound lovely, lively, and lyrical to the untrained ear, but are unlikely to pass muster with the reading public any more than with a curmudgeonly college professor.
- Using slang can work if a target audience matches well to the slang. Writing local dialect, similarly, can work if the target is attuned to the dialect. However, in both cases, incorrect punctuation, poor grammar, and misspelled words may create the impression that the writer is simply unschooled.
- Expanding a manuscript with many, many, many, and even many more “little” words may have helped one meet that college term paper length requirement (yes, I did it, too), but phrases like “should have been,” “in order to,” “and so forth,” can muddle messaging, and slow down or stall out a reader’s experience (did you spot my error?).
- What school teachers call “theme sentences” become “hooks” in the world of writing pros. Think “hook” as in hooking a fish. Start with the key point of the story. If the purpose is to sell discounted, organic dog biscuits, say that.
- Do the keyword research. One of the most popular words in the history of language, “dog,” is searched over 100 million times per month according to data posted at Keyword Spy. The word “treat,” gets a mere 7.4 million requests. The word “biscuit” gets only 4 million. So, one best practice is to exploit the most popular terms first. Start the story by talking about “dog treats.” Toss in “dog biscuits” later when rhythm and pacing demand variation of vocabulary.
- Respect readers who are in a hurry. Put the most important information in the first three paragraphs. Use the reporter’s “who, what, when, why and how” method to deliver the info that matters most. For a sales site, embed the buy button or lead generation form above the fold.
- Continue to respect people who are in a hurry. Tighten sentences. Be cruel. Dump words. Break long statements into short statements. Keep it as simple as the “keep it simple” cliche.
- Minimize use of cliches. I know. That’s hard, but “familiarity breeds contempt,” as the cliche goes.
- If the meaning of the word “cliche” is not clear, look it up. Better yet, look up every big word with a fuzzy meaning. Be sure to use nouns and verbs correctly, in the correct context. Read aloud. If a phrase does not sound right to the ear, revisit the dictionary.
- Respect the reader who wants to know more. Content writing is storytelling, first and foremost. Storytelling, in turn, is entertainment. Entertainment fails when the writing is long winded or incomprehensible. Be mindful that structure and flow are the keys to keeping a reader hooked.
- Expectations are high. Everything 5th-grade teachers teach about grammar is valid and everyone else who reads and writes received the same instruction. Watch those verb tenses. Keep a stylebook handy. Read up on HTML syntax and semantics. Proof and proof again. Check your research. Make sure citations are in place for everything quoted. Use an online copy editor and plagiarism checker, like Grammarly, to proof and protect the work.
- A poet I workshopped with back in the day described editing as “shaking out the carpet.” He was correct, and the metaphor suits web content writing, as well. Edit first drafts rigorously, then edit again, and again.
When the story ends, the reader will be off the hook, free to swim away into the cyber-ocean-beyond, hopefully happily.
So, when your work comes to an end, ask yourself: what do you want that reader to tell others about what he or she just read?