6 Tips for Writing for Web Readers
This is a guest post by Debbie Dragon. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.
Gone are the days of padding your Internet articles with hundreds of keywords hoping to find yourself in the top spots of Google’s search results. While keywords still play a role in search engine positioning, you can actually be penalized if your content seems to contain too many of them — not to mention how difficult it is for a person to read an article that contains the phrase “insurance NY” every 5 words!
Here are some tips for writing for web readers that will help you create informative and easy to read content.
1. The headline is the most important thing. You have about 6 seconds to attract attention from an Internet user before he clicks off your site and look somewhere else. This is about the same attention span of a two year old child, so you need a headline that is going to pull them in immediately, and capture their interest long enough to get them reading the rest.
2. Turn off the advertising and commercial stuff. While the objective of a website is often to make sales, a website visitor is looking for information. Provide content that educates and is interesting, and your site visitor will spend more time on your site. More time spent on your site means they are far more likely to click on other areas which generate income for you than if you create article after article of marketing jargon that people have no interest in reading.
3. Write at an 8th grade level. You don’t have to dumb-it-down, but keep your article easy to read and avoid complicated words and really long sentences. It’s not that you think your readers are unintelligent — you’re keeping it simple because of the attention span factor of your potential audience.
4. Think about how YOU use the web. What makes you stay on a website? What headlines and topics catch your eye and keep you reading until the end of the article? You’re a typical web user — analyze your own Internet activity to get ideas for creating content that will interest other typical Internet users. It’s like market research that doesn’t cost you anything to perform.
5. Write about popular topics. Writing about the topics you like is a good idea, but you should also try to compromise a bit and cover popular topics. If you are looking to get traffic you need to satisfy the readers. Examples include money, health, movies, technology and so on.
6. Get to the point. Even if the topic you’re writing on is worthy of a 400 page book, as a writer for the web, you need to keep it short and to the point. A blog post should rarely ever go over 1,500 words. Learn to select your words carefully and keep your articles as succinct as possible.
Debbie Dragon is a freelance writer who works for Trace Media — a New York SEO company specializing in getting websites up, and making sure they perform to their full potential.
31 Responses to “6 Tips for Writing for Web Readers”
I totally disagree with some of these points. “Right at an 8th grade level” Terrible advice. Even if it makes your blog more popular, it makes you dumber. Write at what ever level you write, never dumb it down.
“Avoid complicated words and long sentences” Wow. Now I have something to point to when I tell people the internet is getting tabloidy.
“Write about health, family or money.” Um, no. Write about what you are passionate about. And no, these aren’t the most popular topics. What about politics, or movies or celebrities? Sheesh.
Thanks for this great post! I especially like how you use advanced organizers, numbers in your case, and summarize them in an interesting way to come up with the title. It lets the reader know exactly what they are getting into and how it relates to them. I need to start doing this better!
Dana @ Online Knowledge
for number 5, you can change it with “write about what needed”.
I agree with Eric writing for the 8th grade lowers your blogs quality, and i seriously disagree with your opinion to write about health, property or money, i would end up in a mess if i’d try to write about something in which I have very limited knowledge.
Any how it was a good read.
I’ve read so many articles on blog length and all I can derive from them is:
“You should/mustn’t/may write short/medium/long articles under/over 500 words or longer and shorter, but please split and don’t split them in two definitely!”
that not entirely what he meant, write like 8th grade – write the article as simple as possible, there is no need to use such weird words just because you know it, and you reader might not know about it. Style of writing is second to understanding of the topic, i believe that what he try to convey.
i always keep my post not more than 400-600 words, if i think the post will be longer, i just make the post have two parts.
read latest problogger.net post, he talk about this too.
@Eric, I agree with some of what you say. I believe the guest author meant different things on those points though.
I just re-phrased point 5. As for “Write at an 8th grade level”, I believe the idea is to avoid complex and fancy words unless really necessary, which is not bad advice.
Its hard to give generic advice for writing on the internet. You’re addressing such a wide spectrum, and every niche is different.
These are good starting points, but, depending upon one’s niche, one might go completely against many of these tips.
I realize now how critical people can be: How do we handle this?
I really have no opinion on writing, but I feel it is what suits you best.
I agree with Daniel and Izzat Aziz. Debbie merely meant keep your words simple and avoid complexity and verbosity. Internet users have short attention spans (the said 6 seconds…) and nobody has time to scratch their heads over a post plagued with difficult words. The important thing is to get your message across in as simple a manner as possible. That’s the most effective way, unless you’re writing about the quantum theory.
jennifer888 @ Negotiation Board
Great advice! I would only add to break up your posts into small bit sized pieces with easily identifiable sub-headings. This definitely makes for a much easier read.
Gabe | freebloghelp.com
Very nice! I had something similar last month: Blog like youâ€™re writing for a 14-year old girl
I agreed with most of the points except writing at the 8th grade level. Writing that is sloppy, unorganized and written poorly will decrease the credibility of the author and will not give people a reason to read through the content. Bad writing can be spotted easily and can easily be picked apart in other blogs or forms of communication.
Getting to the point is a very key note in this post. Oftentimes, someone could spend hours upon hours writing something and never actually state their position or point on a particular matter. Having content that is relevant is needed but overloading the post with too much information will leave the reader confused and unsure about visiting the site again.
Some great tips that I could take note of when I write my blogs. I always try to keep them simple with no confusing words and I break up the post with headings to keep viewers interested in what I have written about.
@ Daniel – My problem with tip #3 has more to do with the argument “avoid complicated word and long sentences” Its probably because I’m an English major, but I love long word, long sentences and complex ideas. The world is becoming more complex, not less.
Also, the great writers, your Thoreau’s, your Fitzgerald’s, were incredibly clear in there writing and barely wasted a word, and yet it is often complex and difficult. Clear does not equal simple. I actually have a guest post I’m going to write on common “writing tips” people should avoid, and this is one of them.
On the write about popular things, the advice is much better now. On my blog, whenever we write about Afghanistan, our traffic spikes.
Finally, I hope it is ok that I disagreed with the author. I think discussion is a good thing and there isn’t enough of it on comment pages..
@Eric, it is certainly OK to disagree with the author, and with me as well for the matter of fact.
I appreciate all comments, because they always enrich the subject matter.
I am looking forward to your post as well (we could publish that on Daily Writing Tips if you want 🙂 )
Depends on your topic. If you’re writing about finance I don’t think many 8th grade reading level people will be interested. And if you write about less popular topics then there should be fewer websites out there writing about what you have to say so you should still have people finding you.
#4 is the top tip. Don’t look at content from your perspective, look at it from a visitor’s viewpoint. Read the article to yourself, preferably a few minutes after you’ve written. This allows some time to pass so that you can collect yourself and read it from a third person perspective.
Good debate, everybody.
What works for me is to imagine writing to someone who is basically intelligent and wants to know more about my topic.
I agree that it depends on your topic, and also on who your audience is. ‘Slant for your reader’ is the classic advice – and it works online pretty well. Of course, that’s easier to do when you know who your audience is.
#1 The headline is the most important thing
In My point of view:
The Headline in the same topics must be different from the competitors
Kevin @ Blog Tipz
These are all great tips. They may not work for all blogs, as some have noted, but they are general and can be applied to most.
Writing on a “lower” level doesn’t necessarily mean you are dumbing down your content. You are essentially writing to ensure your content can be digested by the most people possible. Complicated words can be used, but should be defined somewhere else, or a link to more information can be provided.
I’d have to disagree with number six due to the fact that splitting posts apart can be just as annoying to readers as writing posts without providing enough details just to stay within those “500 word” limits.
Web Marketing Tips
I always believe that visitors are like monkey if they will not get food at your tree than they will climb to other tree to get their requirements fulfilled.
So if you want that they should be at your tree than keep providing them food and they will keep coming.
I think Harrison nailed it. The writing level determines on the target audience. Good call.
Good sharing to help web peoples get on the right track and present a nice and pleasant work. Thanks for that
As for me, Daily Blog Tips is easier to be read than Johnchow Dot Com, but both of them are popular, so I think the most important is to have a great idea and make it clear.
I owe you a big thanks for writing us very good article! Tips number 4 is the one hit me most, its a good approach really, seeing others as seeing ourself as typical internet user.
I think there is some misunderstanding on what an 8th grade writing / reading level is. Most newspapers are written on a 6th or 7th grade level with the exception of The New York Times which may be 12th grade level. Most of the posts written here are about 6th, 7th or 8th grade level.
An 8th grade writing level would be clear, concise, well written, well punctuated, no spelling or gramatical errors and have clear coherent paragraph development and good flow from one idea to the next. An 8th grade level would be decent writing considering that a lot of people blogging seem to intentionally use incorrect grammar, poor spelling and no punctuation in order to appear cool to the new texting lingo that is so common with our younger people.
An 8th grade writing level is quite respectable and can even challenge you socially, politically or spiritually. Many novels are written on this level. Look at Hemingway’s writing….very easy to read, clear, yet powerful and inspiring. An extremely wise and even profound statement can be made on lower writing level. “Where ever we go, there we are.”
My writing, according to the computers that measure, tends to be at the 10th grade level.
I guess I just wonder why everyone doesn’t aspire to higher level writing? I love the New York Times, the New Yorker. Hemingway, though he had simple prose, wrote above an eigth grade level. His word choice, especially in some books, is very advanced. I don’t know, maybe I’m just sad about the literate world in general.
@ Daniel – I sent in that guets post and I never heard from you, hit me back.
I am amazed at how many amazing writers there and and also how many writers have no idea how to write. The spectrum is very large. Excellent article!
“Write at an 8th grade level” is not meant to be condescending. I was reading at a college level at 7, and have no trouble working through dense, precise text.
But it’s really boring, and I won’t unless I can’t get that info somewhere else.
Even if you have a graduate school level vocabulary, you need to be judicious in its implementation.
(See what I did there?)
You know, this article makes sense, but I’ve seen successful blogs with long, unbroken posts, and with short, sentence length paragraphs. The bottom line is, write for your readers and you won’t go wrong.
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