Today, we hear firsthand from one of the voices behind-the-blog: Internal Marketing Manager Alyson Hunter. Alyson is responsible for our content marketing strategy and writes our blog, case studies, newsletters, website copy, and other content pieces.
Writing for the web means short attention spans and heavy competition.
Typically, your audience is scanning articles and deciding within seconds whether it’s worth their time to keep reading. Meanwhile, a video of a cat wearing a shark costume, while riding a Roomba and chasing a duckling is competing for their attention.
Can you rival a cat riding a Roomba? I can’t!
Whether you’re writing a blog post or updating website copy, writing for an online audience takes different finesse than writing for print. Ignore what your ninth grade English teacher told you (well, some of it), and try out my 6 tips for writing for the web.
Be human and focus on your customer
Lesson number one: be human, aka, write in everyday language. (This is where we depart from ninth grade English. Hate to say it, but Shakespeare would receive no love online.)
A reader finds your content because they’re searching for something they need or want. Whether they’re seeking entertainment, education, or to reward themselves with a new buy, ultimately they’re thinking about themselves, not about you.
Write content that answers your audiences’ burning questions or simplifies a complex subject. Don’t use a long or uncommon words when a simple word suffices.
Impart wisdom or witticism around a subject, and get there fast, before you bore your audience to tears. Capture their attention in the first paragraph and follow with clear objectives, a thoughtful layout of ideas, and interesting visuals.
Write about topics that stay relevant
Write timely content, but also pieces that never go out of style. You’ll learn to love “evergreen” content, because it consistently drives traffic to your site long after you hit “publish”.
For example, in 2011, we published “Google Analytics: Direct vs. Search Engine vs. Referral Traffic” on Whereoware’s blog. This post defines different types of traffic sources found in Google Analytics. If you’ve worked in Google Analytics before, you know it can be overwhelming to learn, and it doesn’t help that Google often changes their algorithm and terminology.
In this last week alone, 16% of our organic traffic landed on this blog post. It ranks as one of our most highly read blog posts year after year, and it was published way back in 2011.
Our Google Analytics post isn’t especially popular because we spent a lot of time or money promoting it. Instead, it drives tons of traffic because visitors search for an easy-to-follow explanation of search terms and definitions. They need answers, and we provide relevant content.
Buzzwords torpedo writing
Get rid of nonsense words! If your website is peppered with words like, “top of the line,” “best-in-class,” or “mission-critical,” your readers’ eyes are glazing over.
Remove industry buzzwords and instead find descriptive words or metrics demonstrating the true business solution or problem your service addresses. (Unless you’re solution truly is mission-critical. If so, have at it).
Get a cheerleading squad
You beat the competition. You’re faster, cheaper, and award-winning.
Like your drunken uncle who won’t stop talking about his glory days, boasting about accomplishments diminishes your credibility.
Instead, let your customers brag for you. Customer testimonials or customer reviews are very effective at influencing buyer behavior, because they’re deemed trustworthy and reliable.
For example, Sandals’ testimonial page promotes Sandals resorts as an excellent vacation destination, without Sandals saying so. Seeing real customers enjoyed their stay will make prospects feel comfortable booking a trip.
Similarly, adding a quality seal to your website, like the Norton Shopping Guarantee on our B2B + B2C e-commerce client Mud Pie’s website assures customers Mud Pie is a reputable company with a safe and secure checkout.
Highlighting awards in a subtle way achieves the same goal. It proves you aren’t the only one who thinks your company outperforms the competition, a judging panel agreed!
Save your words for conveying important points and principles, and then let your cheerleading squad show how you rock.
Break up text with visuals
Online audiences are looking for a quick fix. Keep your content short whenever possible. Break up ideas into shorter paragraphs. Use bullets to call out key points. Bold important words and headlines.
Expect your audience to only scan your article (remember, cat riding Roomba). Visual cues make it easy for scanners to grasp your main points, whether they read your post in entirety or not.
Here’s where your English teacher had a point. No one wants to read content riddled with errors. If anything, error-leaden writing immediately destroys your credibility.
Spellcheck your content before posting (both text AND graphics). Check your verb tense is consistent and doesn’t switch back and forth. Delete sentences that don’t impart value or information. Replace buzzwords with meaningful descriptions.
A few extra edits I perform with every post:
1. Use Word’s Find and Replace function to highlight “the” and also “that.” These words are overused, frequently unnecessary, and slowdown a reader’s progression.
For example, if the sentence is, “I like writing that compels readers.” Can the sentence standalone if I remove “that”? Nope, “I like writing compels reader” is incorrect. The sentence “Use testimonials to prove that your products are valuable,” on the other hand, can be rewritten to “use testimonials to prove your products are valuable” without changing the sentence’s meaning.
2. While you’re at it, use Find and Replace to highlight adverbs, like “quickly” or “efficiently,” and delete them if they aren’t necessary. Even better? Swap them out for better words. Change “quickly ran” to “fled” or “yelled loudly” to “shouted.”
3. Whenever possible, ask someone else to read your piece. An objective proofreader will help you identify mistakes, clarify ambiguous statements, and delete superfluous content.
Your writing is only effective if your audience understands it. They’ll only take action, like following up with you or revisiting your website, if you grab their attention and get your point across. Remember, you’re competing with every writer, sensational news story, and puppy video on the web.