Netiquette: How to Navigate Writing for the Web
Writing for an online audience is rewarding. But does successful online writing follow a formula? Yes, kind of. It's not about formulaic writing, but about following simple best practice. Once you are familiar with these maxims, you can start to appreciate the art of online writing, and improve user engagement. After all, writing online is all about getting people to click and visit your site, then making them stay to actually read your words. Your job as an online writer and content creator is to make it worth their while. In a frenetic world of scanning and distractions, how can you write better?
Start strong & front load
Don't lose them at hello. An old journalistic trick says that you should give away the most important bit of information first, and then build on it like an inverted pyramid. Though limiting, there is a definite argument for putting your most convincing copy near the top. The way that people scan on the web (heatmaps show a rough F shape for reading content) means that putting important copy first optimises your chances of people actually reading it too. Make your first few words and sentences count.
Clear, concise copy
Clarity is supremely important when writing online. That doesn't mean you have to 'dumb everything down', but it does mean favouring simple and precise language where you can. Good grammar and punctuation are still important. Style is still important. Just be sure that you are writing good, direct and unambiguous prose. There are some cool tools out there like the Hemingway App that can help you de-clutter your prose. Try it out on and see how readable your copy is- you might be suprised...
Think audience, think people
The old style guide maxim is still important: think about your audience when you write. Don't write for yourself or your editor, write for them. Writing for a specific audience will make your writing more direct and relevant. Flesh out customer or reader personas if it helps.
Only use jargon if your audience will appreciate it it. Don't use it to sound clever. Writing for a diverse online audience is all about sounding friendly, think of your audience as actual people to help you loosen up.
Organise, organise, organise
Use bullet-points, headings and subheadings to organise your writing. People read quickly online. Make their journey through your writing painless. Organising your writing will also help you organise your ideas, so everyone wins.
Perfect your purpose
Writing for marketing purposes, or to inform? Good writing is always good writing, but there are subtle differences. If you are content marketing, think about how you can make your product or service relevant. Try to create an emotional response to what you are offering if you can. If you are informing, think about how to best present your data. Things like infographics can be a great way to get your message across quickly.
Develop a personality
No, it doesn't have to be a wacky radio presenter type personality, but having some sort of personality will help. There are a multitude of voices out there- decide what your voice is saying and why. This writerly exercise should be harmonised with your brand and company messaging.
Words aren’t everything
Writing online only doesn’t end with the text you provide. Think about the layout, the font, the graphics and the images you use. These will help guide the reader's eye and give your words more impact.
In essence: be clear on what you're saying, cut to the chase, organise your writing, don't waffle, target an audience and always make your writing easy to read.