10 Steps To Writing Better Web Content

30 Jan 2012

10 Steps To Writing Better Web Content

Your Web content is in a constant battle against a number of variables competing for your readers attention: A link to another website, the back button, their task at hand, the size of their monitor, the number of hours in the day. For those reasons and many others, its crucial to give your readers easy access to the information they want, without making them think, and without getting in their way withmarketeseand fluff. This is 10 steps to writing better web content, originally posted by Springboard SEO. Check this out.

Write better Web content

Here are some of the most useful guidelines Ive come to appreciate in my quest to continually improve my content writing.

  1. Create personas
  2. Write your headline first
  3. Keep your headings and lists parallel
  4. Write how you talk
  5. Write drunk, edit sober
  6. Use the active voice
  7. Write in inverted pyramid style
  8. Think of writing as revising drafts
  9. Let go of the words
  10. Stop when you are going good

1. Create personas

We all know how important it is to focus on our audiences when writing for the Web, but without a method, that advice can be somewhat abstract. Personas are fictitious users you create to ensure that you keep your different audiences perspectives in mind as you write content. Here are the basic steps involved:

  1. List your major audiences: Think of which groups of people (not departments or institutions) that might be using your site.
  2. Gather information on your audiences: Dont assume you know what your different audiences are like; instead, compile information from various points of interaction with them to better understand who they are, and what their needs and questions might be. Potential sources of information include contact form emails, interviews, your past consultations, your customer service department, and even questionnaires.
  3. Some very basic examples of user personas
    Basic examples of user personas

    List major characteristics for each audience: Each of your sites user groups may have identifiable characteristics. For example, a poison control website will surely attract a large number of anxious visitors that need information very quickly, whereas an airline site will have a wider range of visitors with varying levels of travel experience. Plan for your visitors terminology, demographics, cultural backgrounds, potential emotions, and experience with your websites subject matter.

  4. Use your information to create personas: Once youve compiled information on your different audiences, youll want to bring all that data to life with a few personas that represent the typical visitors to your website.Each persona should be given a name, picture (stock photos are good), and characteristics.
  5. Use your information to write scenarios for your site: Once youve identified some goals that each of your personas are likely to have, come up with some tasks theyll want to accomplish on your site. This is a great way to organize your content according your visitors needs.

Refer to your personas by name when strategizing content instead of calling them users. Creating personas will greatly improve the focus of your Web content writing as well as the user-experience of your website. Dive deeper into the nuts and bolts of creating user personas:

2. Write your headline first

Writing your headline, aka primary heading, before diving into the content forces you to stay focused on the purpose of your article. Your headline makes a promise to your readers, and writing with that in mind is a good way to keep your content structured and to the point.

Brian Clarks Copyblogger.com is the place to start for tips on writing compelling headlines:

3. Keep your headings and lists parallel

People are very pattern oriented. Headings and lists with consistent grammatical structure help your readers remember and compare successive portions of content.

Compare these 2 problem solving checklists, one written with an inconsistent style, and the other using parallel grammatical structure:

Table 1. A problem solving checklist written and rewritten
Inconsistent grammatical structure Parallel grammatical structure
1. The problem Must be defined 1. Define the problem
2. Analyzing the problem 2. Analyze the problem
3. What are the possible solutions? 3. Generate possible Solutions
4. Solutions analysis 4. Analyze the Solutions
5. Planning the next course of action 5. Plan the next course of action

Table 1 shows how a list or group of subheadings with parallel grammatical structure clarifies their meanings and relationships between them.

Table 2. Big words vs simple words
Complex words Simple words
utilize use
modality style, way
assist aid
assistance help
commencement start
necessitate need

4. Write how you talk

When youre writing about complex concepts its easy to get carried away with complex words as well.

If you have performance anxieties associated with writing, resist overcompensating with big, important-sounding words. Write for your readers, not your ego.

Trying to sound eloquent can have the reverse effect. Its better to write clearly and sound authentic than it is to risk coming across as being pretentious.

5. Write drunk, edit sober

Before you pick up that bottle of Jack

You dont need to be quite as devoted to this piece of advice as the man who originally offered it. This nugget of wisdom from the late Ernest Hemingway simply reminds us to write without inhibitionespecially your first draft.

Its better to write with a bit too much passion, editing some of it out later, than it is to deny your readers of your personality, or voice.

Enthusiasm makes for compelling reading; dry, self-conscious writing doesnt.

6. Use the active voice

Create a clear and engaging tone by using theactive voice with direct sentences such as Content drives traffic, instead of wordier sentences like Traffic is driven by content.

In the active voice, the object receives the action of the verb:

Table 3. The active voice
Active voice Subject Verb Object
>
Content drives traffic

In the passive voice, the subject receives the action of the verb:

Table 4. The passive voice
Passive voice Subject Verb Object
<
Traffic is driven by content

In tables 3 & 4, notice how with the active voice, the action is in a verb, whereas with the passive voice its in an adjective. Action verbs and the active voice addintent to sentences, giving your words clear meaning.

This isnt to say that you shouldnt ever use the passive voice; in fact, in scientific writing, the passive voice is usually preferred, as the object (result) of the action is more important than the subject (scientist). Politicians also often use the passive voice to put emphasis on events rather than on those responsible.

Unless youre writing a paper on your recent findings in the lab, or if youre trying to useweasel words to hide blame, keep your tone assertive with the active voice.

Inverted pyramid - good stuff before fluff

7. Write in inverted pyramid style

Inverted pyramid structure is a fancy way of saying write the important stuff first.

Dont make your readers scroll through a full page of content to get your key points and conclusion. Start with the who, what, where, when, why and how, andthen get to the details.

8. Think of writing as revising drafts

Do you ever suffer from writers block? Unless youre one of the fortunate minority, the answer is probably a resoundingwell duh!

When youre having difficulty getting the ball rolling with your Web content, remember that youll likely be editing much of it once youve stepped away from it for a few hours and sometimes days. Returning to what youve written after a break gives you a fresh and objective perspective of your work, and this fact alone should help you relax a bit and get into your writing without worrying about it being perfect on the first pass.

9. Let go of the words

Janice (Ginny) Redish named her bookLetting Go of the Words after one of my favorite pieces of advice on writing for the Web. Whatever youve written, you can probably edit out atleast half of the words without losing important meaning.

Busy Web users should be able to grab the information they need quickly and efficiently without having to endure any kind offluff, to slow them down. The more you focus on the goals and needs of your readers, the less content youll find you need on each page of your site to satisfy them. Efficient and focused content allows people to and grab the information they need and go on to whatever they need to do next.

If you are worried about the search visibility implications halving your content, dont be; if the fluff you are chopping out has anywhere near the amount of keywords that your focused content does, youre probably spamming.

10. Stop when you are going good

This final piece of advice is another rule that Hemingway applied to his writing process. It might seem counterintuitive, but give it a try, youll probably be pleasantly surprised.

The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and dont think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.


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