If you haven’t heard, here’s a crucial lesson for everyone who writes just about anything on the internet: People read differently on the screen than they do when they’re holding a book, magazine, newspaper, page, or other form of printed hardcopy.
Web audiences act like they don’t want to be reading, even when they’re choosing to read. They usually don’t even read, per se; they scan, they skip, sometimes they’re just itching for a reason to click away to the next thing.
When writing for an online readership, your job is to make things as simple, clear, and digestible as possible. Use the following tried-and-true tips for writing web-friendly content and copy to keep the eyes glued to the pages of your website.
How to Write for an Online Audience
- Know what you want to say beforehand. Never think things through while you’re writing; you’ll ramble, get repetitive, get confusing, or have poor flow.
- Grab attention with your headline by being clever, emotional, urgent, or something else attention-worthy.
- Grab attention with your first sentence and paragraph, too. If readers aren’t hooked at the start, they’re unlikely to keep going.
- Create a headline that clearly and accurately communicates what the audience will find out if they keep reading.
- Put the most important information up top.
- Write simple, straightforward sentences. Don’t use lots of commas to create complex sentences. More than 12 words is pushing it.
- Keep your paragraphs short—two to four sentences—because web readers don’t like seeing large blocks of text.
- Use bolded subheadings to make the page easily scannable.
- Incorporate bullet points or numbered lists for the same reason.
- Start bulleted/numbered lists and calls to action with action verbs.
- The longer your content or copy, the more often you need white space interspersed.
- Be concise. Eliminate empty words and phrases (e.g., really, very, actually, you should, you can, etc.).
- Don’t use industry jargon; write for laypeople.
- Don’t use fancy, obscure, or weird words either. People don’t want to stop to look something up to figure out what you’re talking about.
- Avoid passive tense.
- Write in second person (say “you” and “your”) to directly engage your audience.
- Naturally incorporate keywords that people would type into the search bar when looking for what you’re writing about.
- Don’t repeat the same keywords or keyword phrases over and over. Synonyms are your friend—and SEO’s friend too.
- Incorporate high-quality images with your content or copy, especially if it runs long. People like visuals, which are engaging and help break things up.
- Edit! Grammar and spelling mistakes ruin your credibility and annoy readers. It helps to wait a while between writing and checking over the work. Reading it aloud also helps you catch errors you might otherwise miss. If you struggle to proof your own writing, have somebody else with a good eye read it over.