How to write for websites and blogs

In the early days – meaning the last decade of the 20th century –you had to possess (or hire) sophisticated professional skills to create and maintain a website. A first-rate, multi-dimensional site still demands a team of specialists working together to plan, write, design, produce and optimise it as a pivotal marketing tool.

Related: How to get your website noticed or find beautiful photos for your blog

But thanks to online services such as WordPress, Wix, Typepad and whatever is best and newest, you can now easily create a blog by doing all or most of the work yourself.

Blog vs. website

The distinctions between blogs and websites are blurring. You can plan a blog that looks like a blog: A page that leads off with a new posting on the subject of your choice with access to previous posts. Or it can look like a website: a multi-page platform representing your business (or you) that leads to a home page and observes some fairly standard conventions.  This home page can connect to an array of additional pages, perhaps including a blog.

As do-it-yourself tools grow better, you can more easily build a site to your own satisfaction with little technical facility.  Still, don’t underestimate the power of good design sense or HTML know-how to help you engage audiences, appeal to them visually, and interact with them better.

And never ignore the value of good writing. It’s the heart of every website and every blog. Studies show that while visuals entice and entertain, most visitors value the words far more. Even if your site ultimately uses few words, it must make sense in a way you can express yourself, at least, in written language.

Working on your writing style for websites and blogs

Use the following strategies to hone your blog and website writing.

Consciously adapt your writing style

You can write online in a variety of ways, but you need to pick your specific style to be successful. Figure out how you relate to your profession and your audience, and then create the online persona you want to project.

A lawyer or management consultant, for instance, generally wants to be perceived quite differently from a social worker or artist. But you may be a lawyer who works with intellectual property and needs to connect with artists or a consultant who wants to be seen as creative. Or you may be an artist who wants to be seen as business like. Of course, you want to be ‘yourself,’ but consider how the way you present will affect viewers.

Keep your copy short, pithy, substance-focused, and straightforward

Don’t just get to the point quickly – make your point and move on. Research says that online reading is 25 percent slower than reading print material. Moreover, it tires the eyes, and your visitors are impatient for hundreds of their own reasons. All powerful reasons to keep the text short and lively!

Choose your keywords early on

The Internet has dozens of cost-free ways to help you identify the best words and phrases to include in your site or blog. Google’s searchwords.com and adwords.com tools enable you to pick words and phrases that are most used by searchers looking for what you offer and also identify terms that your competitors use so you can choose those that are less common if you wish.

Use your keywords in headlines, subheads and body copy

Put them on the top and left on a page, and lead with them in headlines and subheads whenever possible. Both readers scanning for what they want and search engines find them more surely that way. Researchers who track eye movement on web pages report that the top left corner is the most read territory, and the average viewer’s attention tapers off as the eyes move down the page. Also, boldface your keywords when appropriate. This practice works well for blogs.

Be sure to use all keywords in fully natural ways. Loading the deck with numerous keywords draws penalties from most search engines.

Break copy up into small chunks

Short paragraphs – one to three sentences – go a long way toward online readability. But don’t use all one-sentence paragraphs, which also generates unenticing copy. Chop your prose into chunks by:

Adding lots of subheads. They keep you organised and give readers an easy set of stepping stones to follow.

Building in white space. Bullets and numbered lists are effective. But for online copy don’t list more than six or seven items and be sure they have a context that makes them meaningful. (Just beware of listing more than five or six items.)

Minimise scrolling

People really don’t like to scroll. Many popular website home pages seem to continue vertically ad infinitum. I see this approach as highly counter-productive. An established site, or one featuring content that’s constantly updated, can present a cascade of features, but most home pages are not the place for extended introductions or arguments. Instead, strive to develop strong leads that pull scanners to inside pages.

Make every page self-explanatory and self-contained

People don’t typically choose to land on a home page and then read through the site in your preferred sequence. If they’re looking for one among five things you produce, they’ll probably land on that page. So make sure they know where they are in cyberspace wherever they land on your site. On every page use your company name prominently, include clear headlines, and a call to action. Link to other parts of the site as appropriate.

Go for clear (rather than clever) title buttons, icons and links

User expectations trump originality, but you don’t necessarily need to stick to the cookie cutter. Naming your company’s background page ‘growing up’ rather than ‘about us’ is a bad idea. But ‘our story’ can work fine.

Frame everything in you, and we or I

Use these words to personalise what you write. Beyond connecting better with your site’s users, writing in terms of ‘you’ helps you stay focused on reader viewpoint rather than your own. When it’s natural to say ‘I’ or ‘we,’ don’t hesitate. There’s no need to write in an abstract third person mode. You can switch back and forth, too. General Electric says, ‘GE is building the world by…’ and two sentences later, ‘We build appliances, power lighting systems…’

Craft conversational, fast-reading copy

Use contractions, simple sentences with few commas, a rhythm that moves the reader along. Cut all unnecessary adjectives and all empty hype – no grandiose statements, jargon, mystery abbreviations, and acronyms! Use all the tools of engagement available. Ask questions, invite opinion, offer something irresistible to your audience. And whenever you can, show your passion and commitment to what you do. Nothing is more convincing. In sum, find fun and value in drilling down to the heart of your own message and deliver it with conviction, tightly.

This is an edited extract from Business Writing For Dummies by Natalie Canavor, published by Wiley

Want more? Check out our post on how to source the best content for your blog!