A guest post by Ali Luke .
If you’re used to writing for print media – like magazines or local newspapers – then you might think you’ve already got plenty of tricks up your sleeve when it comes to creating great blog posts or web copy.
But although the fundamentals of good writing will never change, it’s important to consider the context in which your online words are being read. Your readers aren’t sitting down with a mug of coffee and a magazine – they’re glancing at your blog post while waiting for a file to download, chatting on Twitter, and checking emails.
Even if a reader does give your post their full attention, the physical act of reading is harder on a screen than on the printed page. (This is why e-reader devices, designed for books, have special screens that are intended to mimic the sense of reading ink on paper.)
None of the tips that I’m about to share with you are new. Back in 1997, Jacob Nielson wrote the now-seminal How Users Read on the Web, and the advice he gives is still highly relevant. But – judging from some of the sites and blogs that I see – a lot of great writers still don’t know how to make sure their words are being read online.
Here are three very simple things you can do:
Write Clear Titles, Not Clever Ones
In a magazine or book, you might be able to get away with a clever or cutesy title that intrigues the reader, even if it doesn’t give much idea of the contents of the piece.
Online, it’s crucial that you put relevant words in your title – not just to help catch the attention of busy readers, but also so search engines can understand what your page or post is about.
That doesn’t mean your titles need to be boring. You can:
- Include adjectives (easy, straight-forward, fun, clever, secret…)
- Include numbers (“5 Easy Ways To…”)
- Include the word “Why” and/or “How”
If you’re ever stuck for a title, head over to Copyblogger and look at their most popular posts, in the sidebar on the right. See whether one of their title structures sparks an idea.
Use Links, Rather than Quotes, to Support Your Material
In magazine and newspaper articles, you’ll see lots of quotes from experts incorporated into the text. This helps to lend credibility; the reader can see that the piece has been well-researched and that, often, different or opposing views have been included.
Online, you have an invaluable tool for giving readers more information or for backing up your claims: the hyperlink. Instead of quoting a long paragraph, you can simply link to the whole article that you’re referencing.
When you do use quotes, offset them from your main text using the <blockquote> command in HTML (or the equivalent button in your WYSIWYG editor).
Of course, sometimes, plenty of quotes are a good thing. They work very well on sales pages, where you’ll want to show that customers have used and enjoyed your product/service, and where you don’t want to direct potential new customers away from your site.
Include More Text Formatting
Long blocks of text aren’t easy or inviting to read. One of the best ways to make a page or post more attractive is to include visual elements that help readers to stay focused and (if they want to scan) help them pick out key points.
Online, it’s easy to include:
- Short paragraphs with a blank line between each
- Subheadings to sign-post the way through your piece
- Bullet-points to help readers take information in easily
- Bold text to draw attention to key points
- Images to draw the eye (especially at the start of a post)
Of course, you can go too far with formatting. If every other paragraph becomes a list of bullet-points, or every other sentence is in bold type, your post will be choppy and hard to read.
Aim for a good balance – and if you’re not sure how best to do that, take a careful look at posts and web pages that easily grab your own attention. See what they’re doing, and how you might apply it to your own writing.
If you’re getting into online writing, pop a comment below and let us know what reader-friendly techniques you’ve been trying out – or what you’re planning on doing in the future.
Bio: Ali Luke is a writer and writing coach. You can download her free ebooks and goodies for writers/bloggers at www.aliventures.com/newsletter, including “How to Find Time for Your Writing” and “Ten Powerful Ways to Make Your Blog Posts Stronger” … plus much more.