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Writing for the Web

Writing.ie | Resources | Digital Publishing | Getting Published

Elaine Larkin

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There’s more to writing for the web than copying and pasting words into a content management system. While the inverted pyramid used in journalism is important, other writing customs are turned on their head

Remember everything you know about writing forget everything at the same time is the best advice I can give to freelancers hoping to break into the web content writing market.

Your sentences and paragraphs have to be short, your words have to be simple, your brain has to rewire itself.

Writing style

Pride yourself on a massive vocabulary? It doesn’t matter. Words like verbose are too difficult to use if you want the content to be accessible. (Accessibility and usability are two big words that you’ll get familiar with along the way.)

Think you’re really clever at word play? That doesn’t matter either.

Familiar with catchy headlines and sub heads/cross captions? They’re also gone. On the internet things have to make sense – straight away.

Know your characters

But that’s where headline writing skills can be of use – fitting the meaning of something into a few words. Did I say words? I meant characters (with spaces). You can’t change the spacing or size of words to squeeze everything in – if a heading needs to be a particular length, you’ve got to be clever and concise.

You not only have to write headlines to a particular length. There’s also text on buttons, menus, nav bars, page titles, meta descriptions. Sorry did I mention keywords? If on-page search engine optimisation is part of your assignment, you’ve got to worry about keywords.

Keywords are the words that people are likely to type into a search engine. You’ve got to figure out what these might be and include them in your content to have a chance of appearing in those search engine results.

Keyword research, keyword density, keyword tweaking and avoiding keyword stuffing are things you need to comprehend.

Inverted pyramid and other basics

One thing you are allowed to keep though and something that’s very useful, is the inverted pyramid. The inverted pyramid, the basic rule in news writing, is all about ensuring the most important information is in the first sentence/paragraph. Less important information is distributed through the rest of the piece. The 5Ws and a H (who, what, when, where, why and how) belong right up there at the top of any page.

The inverted pyramid helps with getting to the point.

And in getting to the point (marketing message relevant to target audience and to achieve the business’s objectives) don’t forget to cut. Less is more – remember your readers scan. They don’t read. Bullet points are good ammunition.

But don’t cut out the grammar, punctuation and all the stuff that makes content readable in the first place.

Show some link love

Knowing your way around a content management system is a skill you need to edit text on a website. It’s here you’ll get to do exciting things like create hyperlinks. Internal hyperlinks can bring someone on a journey around the site. Click here won’t cut it – you have to incorporate your links via relevant anchor text (the words that are essentially visible to the reader).

Farewell to marketingese and jargon

Being able to write professionally as a journalist, as a marketer, as a creative writer isn’t enough to write website content effectively. You have to brush up on a load of industry terms and jargon first to get the job done right.

And, don’t forget, jargon and marketing speak is something you’ll have to leave behind. People have less patience on the web and you don’t want to lose readers over silly wording, do you?

About the author

(c) Elaine Larkin 2012

Elaine Larkin runs Web Content Partners, a copywriting and content strategy agency. A former journalist, Elaine started out her career as a regular freelance contributor to The Irish Times and Irish Independent in 1998. She has since worked as an editor and journalist on a wide variety of publications covering everything from sport to travel. Elaine also has corporate communications experience as an in-house journalist for a financial institution. She set up her business while completing an entrepreneurship course in 2008. Freelancers might like to check into the Webcontent.ie/jobs page regularly.

Follow Elaine on Twitter @ElaineLarkin or @webcontent_ie

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