Much of what you were taught in school about writing is not applicable to the web. For starters, readers do not read your copy — they scan bits and pieces. And they scan very quickly, so it’s crucial to grab their attention in as little time as possible.
Even if you feel you’re not the most gifted writer on earth, you can definitely master the art of web writing with just a few tweaks. Here’s how:
1. Clever versus straight-forward wording
Think about what you type into search engines. The words you automatically reach for are probably not overly long or obscure, right? Always keep that in the back of your mind when you are creating content. People won’t read on if the wording is so complex that they need a dictionary to decipher what you’re trying to say. Plus, you need words which are easily searchable otherwise web users won’t even be able to find your content.
Tip: Pretend you’ve just met someone and you need to explain the topic quickly in one or two sentences. You’ll find that voicing it aloud and with limited time will force you to be clear and concise.
2. Use active words
The first rule of journalism is to use active rather than passive words. For example ‘the dog bit the man’; not ‘the man was bitten by the dog’. Using the active voice is more enjoyable to read and the sentences will flow better.
3. Conversational tone draws people in
Web writing is much more conversational than you might be used to. Unless you are writing for academia or documents that absolutely must have a formal tone, keep your writing light, conversational and positive. Web readers also want content to be personal and feel as if it’s addressed to them. This is a very easy fix: simply swap ‘I’, ‘we’ or ‘our’ to ‘you’ and see how that reads.
4. Boot buzzwords to the curb
Buzzwords, industry jargon, business speak and bureaucratic language are all a 100% guaranteed turn off for readers. This habit can be hard to shake, especially if you have been in an industry a long time and certain words are deep-rooted in your vocabulary. What kind of words and phrases are we talking about here? Think overly-used buzzwords of the moment like ‘synergy’, ‘innovate’ and ‘incentivize’, as well as phrases which take up far too much space, like ‘at which time’ when you could have simply used ‘when’.
5. Cut, cut, cut
‘That’, ‘will’, ‘can’, ‘should’. Wherever you see these words popping up in your writing (and you will!) see if the sentence can do without them. They make your writing bloated, lengthy and will bog down what you are really trying to say.
6. Change your structure
Long, identical-looking paragraphs will drive your reader away. This may be fine for books or, again, for academic or formal writing but not for most writing. Chop and change the look of your copy with bulleted lists, paragraph headings and pictures to hold their attention.
7. Short and sweet
Beginning, middle and end: this format doesn’t work as well for the web. Readers will allow you just a few seconds of their precious time before they click away to something more interesting. Beat this by placing your important information in the first couple of paragraphs. Also remember to keep it fairly short. Only in some cases, such as long feature articles, should readers have to scroll more than three full pages.
8. Editing’s magic trick: mistakes will mysteriously appear after a day or so
Okay, so this is one tip that your school teachers definitely drummed in, and we will say it again: don’t publish your first draft. The problem here is that your brain will see what it wants to see in your copy, and completely skip over misspelled and missing words or sentences that simply don’t make any sense. Edit it after a nice break, preferably a day or so. An even better tactic would be to get someone else to edit your work. That’s what happens in newsrooms around the world and we follow this practice here at Lush.
You don’t have to go back to school to whip your writing into shape. Join our regular workshop “Masterclass: How to Write Business Content Like a Pro” to master the art of writing in the 21st century. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (08) 9228 3380 for more information.