Before the web, writing a letter, an article, or even a book was straightforward.
It was all about the content.
These days your writing is likely to be published on the web, at least a portion of it, and that changes everything.
Why Writing for the Web is Different
In addition to building your audience, distributing content on the web is a means for driving profitable customer actions. This practice, known as content marketing, is just one of many reasons for learning how to write for the web.
One of the key distinctions about writing for the web is that your content is readily shareable.
More importantly, this content that started out as your writing can then be atomized (more than repurposed – reimagined) into appropriate portions to be consumed by different audiences, on different platforms, and in other digital formats that provide uniquely different context.
Thus, your writing for the web should consider all three – the original form of content, its intended audience and where they will interact with it, and the context within which they may find themselves when they do.
#1 – Design Your Content for Discovery and Sharing
Writing for the web is writing to reach a larger percentage of a defined audience. For this to happen your content needs to be designed for discovery and sharing, by both people and search engines. Following are key considerations for accomplishing this objective.
Title – Headlines or titles with relevant keywords are of utmost importance. It is best to have your title lead with the most relevant keywords, such as the word “writing” for this article in particular.
Consider the title of your writing to be a crafted description of what will follow. If it lacks clarity or focus, the assumption is your writing does too.
Meta Description – The meta description is the “slug” of content that search engines use to describe your online content. If your content platform does not specifically provide for this (such as a WordPress), by default the first sentence or two is what will be used.
Internal Links – Internal links tell the search engines that your content is relevant to other content on your site, with the first link being especially important. So, make it a good one and have it as early in the article as possible.
External links - External links to sites with authority on the topic of your writing communicate depth in your research. These authoritative sources essentially validate your work.
Subheadings and Key Phrases – After the title, the next most important keywords are the subheadings. These further describe your written content at a glance for Google and your audience.
Also, when you bold specific keyword phrases in your writing it further identifies words most relevant to the message of the writing.
Paragraphs – Writing for the web calls for short, bite-sized paragraphs. This practice has become an expectation that is carrying over to print.
Completeness – I’m often asked what is the ideal or recommended length for a blog post or online article. The best answer to this is whatever it takes to get the job done without any unnecessary fluff. Forget about length and instead focus on completeness of the message.
Visuals – Photos, videos, and audio that accompany your writing tend to follow it as it gets shared on the web. Therefore, it makes sense to choose supporting media that adds value to your writing.
Bonus - The visual design of your writing instantly signals to readers that you are a web savvy writer that has carefully considered the above essentials.
#2 – Serve the Extended Web Audience
When you write for the web you serve several audiences that have common interests, but that are uniquely different, much like an extended family.
If your content is well-designed, it will meet both the expectations of Google and the ideal audience that the search engines can help you to reach. The design criteria in #1 signal to Google that your content meets their standards, and its sharing by your audience further communicates its relevancy and authority.
In addition to the audience that has yet to discover your writing, there are those loyal subscribers that have come to expect your writing to reflect a personal style. Thus, the challenge is keeping your content sufficiently clean for search, while also being personal and original.
Originality is a quality that is sure to become increasingly important for authors of web content.
Writing for people and search engines will soon be the same as quality standards continue to rise. So, the best recommendation is to seek clarity, organization, and simplicity in your writing, while also balancing short and long forms or content, supplementing it with multi-media, and developing a style that resonates with your core audience.
#3 – Adapt to Digital Trends and Social Context
Repurposing your content to formats that better suit the contextual needs of of your audience will be sure to enhance its value.
The shift towards mobile in particular is increasing demand for content in portable formats, such as shareable photos, podcasts, and videos. These richer formats naturally lead to greater intimacy, a quality that is vital for building an audience.
The reason this is exciting for writers is this:
Writing is the starting point for creating high quality, shareable, multi-media, digital, and social content.
Writing as we know it is changing, and it is more relevant than ever as a marketing skill. The challenge is rethinking and reimagining your writing for a digital world that is now central to businesses and their customers.
This article was inspired by many recent requests for advice on blogging and content marketing, so come back for more.
You may also be interested in how these skills will help you to Write Emails that Get a Response.
About the Author: Jeff Korhan, MBA, is the author of Built-In Social: Essential Social Marketing Practices for Every Small Business – (Wiley 2013)