Have you ever read a web page, blog post, Facebook update or email that was just plain bad?
Perhaps it was riddled with mistakes – or perhaps it was full of jargon, badly structured, or otherwise difficult to read.
Almost all of us will write something online at some point in our lives: a personal blog, a company web page, a Facebook update, an email…
And if you want to impress (your clients, your boss, your peers), then you have to be able to write well for the web.
It’s not hard, but it is a little different from what you might have learned in school. Here’s what you need to know:
#1: Big Words Don’t Win Any Prizes
You don’t need to use long, complicated words online – in fact, it’s often much better not to. Almost everyone you communicate with will prefer straightforward language that explains things clearly.
So cut out the jargon, and the fancy long words. Write in a clear, straightforward way: your goal is to make sure your words don’t get in the way of your message.
#2: Short Sentences and Paragraphs are Best
Online, it’s hard to read long paragraphs. Break things up: write in shorter paragraphs and shorter sentences than you normally would. If you want some great examples, take a look at any post on Copyblogger.
If you naturally write in quite long paragraphs and sentences, just do an extra edit to split these up. It only takes a couple of minutes, and it can make your blog post (or Facebook update, or email) much more readable.
#3: Subheadings and Bullet Points Help Readers
Subheadings and bullet points are a great way to make information easier to take in. (They’re particularly useful in emails, if you’re covering several different topics in one message.)
Subheadings act as signposts throughout your text, letting readers know what to expect. They make it easy for readers to skim and scan for information. Bullet points create extra white space, which is attractive to the eye and makes text more readable – and they also make it easy to take in several different points at a glance.
#4: Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar all Matter
Although online writing tends to be informal and laid-back, that definitely doesn’t mean that you should get too relaxed about mistakes. Poor spelling can really undermine your professionalism (be particularly careful on social media, where mistakes can easily get retweeted / shared).
While the occasional slip-up is unlikely to be a disaster, do be especially cautious if you’re writing a resume, covering letter, or anything likely to be seen by a potential new employer or client. Use spellchecker, but always proofread carefully as well – it won’t catch every mistake.
#5: Keyword-Stuffing No Longer Works
If you’ve built a website or started a blog in the past, you might have read up on SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). One common mistake is to think that online content needs to be stuffed full of “keywords” – the phrases that people type into Google and other search engines to look for content.
Keywords are important, but Google is getting smarter all the time, and you definitely don’t need to use your keyword repeatedly any more. In fact, this kind of over-optimising has been frowned on by Google since 2003. So just write naturally, and you can add extra relevancy by adding keywords sparingly and also by using synonyms.
#6: Google Authorship Helps Your Content Get Found
If you’re not on Google+ yet, one big reason to join is so you can implement Google Authorship. If you write quite a bit online (perhaps for your own blog, a friend’s blog, or even as a freelancer), then Google Authorship lets you link your posts to your Google+ profile.
When people search on Google and your articles come up, your name and photo used to appear with them. Even though photos no longer appear, your name does, and it’s also predicted that Google Authorship will become an important part of SEO in the future: Google could give weight to Authorship in the same way it values backlinks. By starting to build up your authorship reputation now, you’ll be in a great position if and when those changes occur.
#7: Anyone Can Write and Publish Now
If you’ve always dreamed of being a writer, or if you have a bunch of notebooks stashed away in your bottom drawer, then the great news is that it’s easier than ever to publish online – whether that’s in the form of a website, social media account, or ebook.
You don’t need to be really technical minded to start a blog or launch an ebook. There are lots of companies (many providing free software, like WordPress) that can help. Why not look into it today?
Best of luck with your web writing – if you’ve got a great tip to share, just drop a comment below.