How to Write Decent Web Copy

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I’d say there’s too much emphasis put on keywords and search engines.  What?  How can this be?  Because if your SEO writing is housed in God-awful writing, it’s not going to make much of a dent.  You have to realize that web content writing is meant to attract two entirely different things:

  1. Search engines
  2. People

Search engines don’t care if you’re writing is poor.  I mean, they care if you jam in keywords indiscriminately, but if you supply a run-on sentence or a sentence that ends with a preposition, the search engine grammar police aren’t going to come and tell you that you need to get a copy of Strunk and White.  Regular people, on the other hand, can tell when a site has been poorly written.  It’s crazy: people spend hours designing a website so it looks crisp, then leave the content writing as an afterthought.  What’s written is just as important as any flashy web graphics you might be employing.

The trouble is a lot of site owners don’t take writing seriously.  They think, “I’ve been writing since I was five years old, this is nothing I can’t handle.”  This is sort of like picking up a guitar and thinking that you’ll be able to play it instantly.  OK, it’s a little different, but good writing isn’t going to come instantly.  This is especially true of web content writing: just because you’ve written some term papers for English 101 does not mean that the web content is going to flow as it should.  Web content writing has some specific requirement, beyond the issue of keywords and keyphrases.

What Makes Good Web Content

Remember that people are looking at a screen, which is a much different experience than reading a newspaper or magazine.  And if you thought men were bad about using the remote control and clicking station after station, everyone is even worse about clicking off of a website if the content is not immediately interesting.  That means you have to grab a reader’s attention within the first two paragraphs, if not the first two sentences.  By “grabbing,” I mean it should both be interesting as well as convey exactly what is comprised in the article.  In the information-rich world, people don’t want to take the time to figure out what content is about.

This is one of the major arguments for housing all types of different content on your site.  All types of people are going to be looking for all different types of information, so you’re going to reach the widest possible audience.  One important issue is to break up content into easy to read and digest small paragraphs.  Thos subheadings with an H2 tags aren’t just good for search engine placement, but for telling people exactly what to expect from the content and to minimize the strain of reading on a screen.

Generally, writing on the web should be more conversational than other types of non-fiction content.  Obviously this depends on the nature and purpose of the site, but this is a good general rule.  The reason that blogging is so popular is that it feels more like a conversation.  This conversational quality can go a long way in drawing people in, compared to dry, factual content.  You might think it sounds impressive to write like an information-rich robot, but you also run the risk of boring people to tears.

Actionable Content

Once you’ve drawn people in, you have a better chance that people will take actionable steps either within the content, around the content, or both.  The purpose of the content once people arrive on the site is to drive them towards a purchase or sign-up form.  Hard sells don’t work any better than real-life pushy salespeople.  You almost want to make it seem like people don’t realize they’re being sold to – like they’re clicking on the link naturally.  Again, this depends on the site, and some hard selling is useful and even necessary, but people are pretty savvy about a site that makes outrageous claims.

Really you want your content to be at a fairly remedial reading level.  This is not because your web surfers are ignoramusi, but because people tend to read so fast online that they want to read quickly.  At the same time, you want to have some authority.  You need to strike a balance between quickly-readable content, information value, and actionable items.  As I’ve said, this is no small task and the reason that web content is such a different artform.  When someone buys a magazine, the purchase has already been made.  Each page isn’t necessarily trying to get you to turn to the next one.  Yes, they want you to subscribe, but that’s a different issue than the fast-paced world of the Internet.  People surf the web like it’s a New York minute.

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