8 rules to follow when writing for the web

by Gill Fernley | 7 min read

If you’re writing for the web, rather than for print, it’s a whole different ballgame.

If someone picks up a book, you know they want to read it, and they’ll most likely start at chapter one and work their way in order to the end.

Writing for the web is not like that. Here are 8 rules to follow to get your content right:

1. It starts with keyword research

First of all, you need to get found in order for anyone to read anything you’ve written, so before you write a word, you need to do some thorough keyword research to see what keywords in your niche are popular and what your audience is searching for. While you’re there, take a look at your competitors and the keywords they are using.

Then you can create a content strategy around the keywords you want to rank for so that your target audience can discover your site and read all that epic content you’ve created for them.

2. Write for your audience first

Having said all that about keywords, while you must include them in your copy if you want to be visible on Google, don’t stuff your keywords in there like you’re being paid thousands for every single one you include.

Write naturally to please your audience and include your keywords in the natural flow of your article, and you’ll not only please your audience, you’ll please the search engines too.

3. Keep it simple

Don’t use complicated language, multi-syllabic words and tons of jargon. Write to suit your audience and how they think.

By all means, if you’re writing about quantum physics for scientists with a PhD, then include the terms that they’d use and all the maths and jargon they’d like. But otherwise, keep it simple.

Use short sentences of no more than twenty words and paragraphs that are no bigger than four or five sentences at the most. And use plain English that your audience can easily get through.

Why? Because unlike when reading a print book, readers on the internet tend to scan rather than read every word, and you need to get your message across quickly or they’ll click away and go elsewhere.

If you’re using self-hosted WordPress for your website, Yoast has a fantastic plugin that will not only check how you’re doing with your SEO but will also check the readability of your content. Check it out here.

4. Put your most important information first

When you were writing an essay in school, they no doubt told you to start with an introduction where you tell the reader what you’re going to say, then actually say it in the body of your essay, and write a conclusion where you tell them what you’ve said.

That advice works brilliantly for essays at school, but not so much when you’re writing for the web.

If you’ve ever written a press release, on the other hand, you’ll know that you should include the most important information first, then add in the less important information and include background only at the bottom. It’s called the ‘inverted pyramid’ model, and it’s perfect for web writing as it’s all to do with getting attention.

Newspaper editors don’t have time to read your 400-page epic on why your business is the greatest ever and why they should totally feature it. Like your web audience, they want to know what’s in it for them. Quickly and up front! Why is it news? Why should they print it? Why should they care? That’s what they’re thinking.

And your audience is very similar in wanting to know why they should read on when there are so many other websites out there.

5. Talk directly to your audience

If you’ve ever read any ‘corporate speak’ sites where they drone on about themselves and use ‘we’ and ‘our’, you’ll know it can be very distancing.

When someone’s talking only about themselves, you don’t feel included in that. You don’t feel listened to and understood. You feel like you aren’t really a part of things.

When someone writes chatty copy that’s aimed right at you, on the other hand – Yes, you. Hello there! – you feel engaged, heard and understood.

So instead of using ‘we’ and ‘our’ in your copy and pushing your readers away, use ‘you’ and ‘yours’ to get them to feel like you’re really talking to them.

6. Break it up!

Reading on the internet is actually harder than reading a print book, so make your content easy on the eyes.

You’ll notice that you could literally skim through this article and read only the subheadings and you’d still know what the article is about and the points I’m making even if you don’t read the whole thing.

That’s partly a trick to help your audience scan your content more quickly to see if it’s what they want, but using subheadings also breaks up the text into manageable chunks which are easier to read than a wall of text.

Break up your text with bullet points, headings, and lots of white space to make it an easy read.

Think about how else you can break up your text and use graphs, infographics, and memes where relevant. Adding attractive images will also catch attention.

7. Use linking to aid the search engines and add to your authority

Internal linking to other pages on your site helps the search engines to understand the shape of your site and to find and index all of your pages, so look for every opportunity to link to previous blog posts and other pages.

External linking to other sites can help you look like an authority to the search engines, as well as give your SEO a boost by showing the search engines what your site is about.

8. Use a strong headline and a strong call to action

Your headline is hugely important as it’s the first thing people see and the main decider in whether they choose to click and read the whole article.

Make your headline strong, using an active voice and engaging, emotional text, and include a benefit that tells people why they should read on. If you can also include your main keyword in the headline, you’ll give your SEO a boost, too.

Check out CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer to see how your headline compares.

Your call to action (CTA) is equally as important as your headline as that is what persuades your audience to do more than just read. A strong call to action can guide your audience to sign up to your newsletter, download your lead magnet, get in touch, ask for a quote, and can even make the sale.

Follow the same guidelines as you would for writing a great headline, but make sure your CTA stands out on the page, and you should get great results!

Want some more help on CTAs and headlines? Check out Neil Patel’s in-depth article on writing powerful headlines and browse Hubspot’s great examples of irresistible calls to action.

When writing for the web, remember that while you are writing for the search engines because you need to be found, you are first and foremost writing for people, and your content needs to give your audience what they need in a digestible, easy-to-read format.

Main image credit: Pixabay

Internal image credits: PixabayPixabayrawpixelFreestocks.org

Gill Fernley

Gill Fernley

The director of her own copywriting firm, Gill writes B2B and B2C content for SMEs and digital marketing agencies. She has a background in performing arts and writes conversational, direct sales copy for businesses on a range of topics. She’s also a keen writer of chick lit.