The 10 Commandments of Great Web Writing
Hi there! We have a newer article about creating great web content. Check out 13 Tips to Improve Your Copywriting for Better SEO!
Maybe you’ve been asked to write a blog post on your company’s website. Maybe your website is getting redesigned, and all of your existing content needs a refresh to make sure it’s performing its best.
Maybe you don’t even like writing, but you’re the only person handling your small business marketing and content creation is now your responsibility.
Whatever the reason, you’ve come to the right place.
Most of us were taught how to write in grade school. That kind of writing, however, was not web writing. That was print writing. And web writing is so different from print writing.
When it comes to writing for websites, forget everything you thought you knew about writing and start over. Throw out your old rulebook, and get ready for a whole new one.
Does that sound scary? Don’t worry! If you’ve been tasked with creating a piece of web content, keep these 10 commandments in mind and you’ll be just fine.
- Thou shalt know your site’s goals
- Thou shalt destroy large blocks of text
- Thou shalt learn to love the “F-shape”
- Thou shalt avoid the temptations of clickbait
- Thou shalt frontload
- Thou shalt trim the deadwood
- Thou shalt not write for the sake of writing
- Thou shalt harness the power of white space
- Thou shalt use bold judiciously
- Thou shalt never publish print text directly to the web
Thou shalt know your site’s goals
…and how your copy helps achieve those goals. Online readers are primarily purpose-driven searchers. They usually want to solve a problem, learn something, get information, or be entertained. If it’s not clear that they’ll be able to achieve one of those goals within seconds of arriving at your site, they’ll leave.
So it makes sense that you, as the content creator, should have a good sense of the goals you’re hoping to achieve as well. When you’re writing web content, think about which goal you want your user to achieve.
Also think about your business goals. Is your copy intended to get users to buy something from your site? Book a consultation? Share something about your organization online? Whatever it is, keep that goal in mind — or even on a sticky note at the top of your screen — so your copy remains purposeful throughout the writing process.
Thou shalt destroy large blocks of text
Forget everything you thought you knew about paragraphs. Because screens exhaust our eyes more quickly than printed pages, and because so much of searching is done on mobile devices with other distractions, online readers are “scanners”. That means they’re more likely to balk at long paragraphs.
Take this commandment as an opportunity to get creative. It might feel strange at first, but your paragraphs no longer have to be 3-5 sentences. If a sentence is meant to be emphatic, make it its own paragraph. A one-sentence paragraph? Get out! It’s not only allowed, it’s encouraged.
Other ways you can break up large blocks of text on your site include introducing descriptive sub-headings into your copy, using lists, adding bullet points, inserting graphics like tables and charts where appropriate, creating block quotes, and including attractive images.
Thou shalt learn to love the “F-shape”
Eye-tracking studies show that online readers tend to read in an F-shape. This means that the most important information should be contained somewhere in the “F” (preferably near the top).
Thou shalt avoid the temptations of clickbait
No matter how much you want to attract visitors to your site, make your headlines and meta descriptions specific and clear. Studies show that misleading headlines may initially attract visitors, but these visitors are more likely to bounce — and never return.
Take this approach to headlines: Which would you rather have at a party, a bunch of strangers you’ll never see again? Or a smaller group of close friends who appreciate and ‘get’ you? Invite the right people to the party with solid headlines.
Not sure how to craft perfectly engaging teaser copy for your content? Read How to Write an Exceptional Meta Description for SEO.
Thou shalt frontload
Studies show that online readers spend 80% of their time “above the fold”. The “fold” is what we used to call the natural fold in newspapers. For online readers, the “fold” is the bottom of their laptop or mobile screen*.
This means that, like newspapers, the most useful, relevant information you need to convey to readers should appear right away, above the fold. If not, readers may click away instead of continuing to scroll.
Front-loading applies to web content writing on a paragraph and sentence level as well. Always include the most important information first.
*More current research suggests that online readers’ habits, especially on mobile devices, are changing to include scrolling below the fold. It is still considered a best practice to include your most important information first, but you no longer have to worry about including all necessary info above the fold. Focus on making sure your opening paragraphs engage your audience enough to entice a full read.
Thou shalt trim the deadwood
“Deadwood” refers to unnecessary words. Since online attention spans can be ruthless, every word must count. That means no flowery language that might distract, confuse, or bore readers. To limit your use of unnecessary words, try writing in the active voice, using the present tense rather than present progressive, and using prenominal adjectives.
Check out our post on how to cut the deadwood from your social media posts using tips from heavy metal (yes, you read that right).
Thou shalt not write for the sake of writing
Remember the first commandment, “Thou shalt know your website’s goals”? When creating a piece of web content, you also need to consider its unique meaning to your target audience.
While websites need a steady stream of fresh content to climb the search rankings, that absolutely doesn’t mean that quantity matters more than quality. If the reason you’re writing a blog post is because your company’s goal is to publish a new blog every two weeks… stop!
Make sure that each new piece of content you create provides a helpful, useful solution — and a unique perspective, if possible. Don’t contribute to the Internet’s content noise with the millionth article on the same topic, sharing the same tired tips.
The positive user behaviour ranking signals search engines will receive from a quality piece of content are what you seek, not the negative ones that come from useless fluff.
Thou shalt harness the power of white space
Designers have always known the value of white space, but there’s no reason writers shouldn’t make use of it too. Use white space to emphasize important points as an alternative to bolding or italicizing. Think about what details you want to pop out as your readers scan.
Thou shalt use bold judiciously
The urge to use bold to highlight the importance of certain words and ease scannability is real, but it loses its effect if it is used too frequently. Try using white space as mentioned above, creative formatting like pull quotes and smaller sub-headlines, or even images.
Thou shalt never publish print text directly to the web
Just because a piece of content was originally published in print, doesn’t mean that it should remain unchanged when it moves online. Your digital readers have different expectations of your content than someone who reads a magazine or pamphlet. If you don’t want to lose them, each and every piece of content that is published on your site should be optimized for the web by using the rest of these commandments.
Now you’re ready to get started writing! Get inspired with these blog post ideas.