Archive for April, 2012

Engaging Your Web Reader

Friday, April 27th, 2012

While web content writers must place a high portion of their focus on keywords, headlines and word counts, if the words don’t fully engage the reader then nothing else will likely matter. Humans read web content, and most of those humans are first and foremost in a hurry to resolve a particular situation or problem. Even though they are in a hurry, however, this does not mean that they lose their ability to tell the difference between mediocre writing and writing of the highest quality. Mediocre writing will never bring your readers back time and time again even if everything else happens to be just as it should according to the best practices of web writing.

Ways to Engage Your Web Reader

Most all web content will tell their reader in some way or another to take action and which specific action they should take to reach the resolution they want. Writing in the second person makes your web content more personal to the reader and is a good way to engage them and hold their attention. You want your readers to feel as though you are speaking to them—having a face-to-face conversation nearly. When you speak in a personal manner, and use the words “I” and “you,” your content becomes personalized, therefore more engaging. Since only a very small percentage of web readers actually read an article from start to finish, you must hook your reader immediately following your amazing headline which caught their attention originally. Then, if you want your reader to actually read every word you’ve written, you must ensure it is rich, high quality, and full of valuable information or a creative solution to a problem.

Even if your friends refer to you as Ms. or Mr. Webster, curb the use of more difficult words. Remember that the Internet is full of people from all walks of life and your goal is to benefit each and every one of them. The average reading level for a web reader is between sixth and eighth grade, so keep this in mind while you write. You don’t want those reading your pages to have to haul out the dictionary to determine what you are saying nor do you want them to feel uneducated, so write simple sentences with easy-to-understand terminology. Aside from wanting your web reader to fully comprehend your message, you don’t want to appear as a boastful or self-important writer, so bring the word level down a bit in order to keep your readers fully engaged.

Writing for the Reader Who Scans

The majority of web readers scan content rather than reading an entire page in the traditional left-to-right fashion. In fact, web readers tend to read from center to left to right, scanning quickly down the page in order to determine whether or not the solution they are seeking is available. Using point form in your web content writing can help your readers scan quickly through a page. Point form includes the use of sub headings, bulleted lists, numbers and the judicious use of bold words. This is not to say that everything you write should contain a bulleted list—use them when appropriate and when you feel they will allow you to make an important point your readers might otherwise miss.

If you find your subject does not lend itself to bulleted lists, then keep your paragraphs short and sweet, focusing on one point for each paragraph. Try using the inverted pyramid style of writing, meaning your most important point will come first, followed by less important information. Don’t forget to add some humor to your writing and you will be able to fully engage your web reader, possibly even ensuring they will read to the very end of your page.

Website Content That Captivates—Part Two

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Writing captivating website content is likely much less a product of incredible imagination and skill and a bit more tied to perseverance and a thorough understanding of the best practices for web content writing. While print writing allows the author to slowly build up to the crux of the story, web content dictates you get your main idea out there right off the bat. Web readers have little time to spend on a specific page and almost always have a goal of locating specific, high-quality information in the most expedient manner possible. Writers must be aware of the “formula” and follow it consistently in order to hold their reader’s attention. In part one we discussed the importance of thoroughly researching your target audience then spending the necessary time and effort writing those oh-so-crucial headlines and subheads. Now it’s time to actually write the body of your content. With your headlines and subheads in place, you should have a solid idea of what each paragraph will contain.

The Crucial Hook

After your headline, your immediate hook is likely the most important part of your content, requiring your very best writing. The hook isn’t required to be more than four to six sentences, and if you follow the most widely accepted guidelines, creating the hook can be a straightforward process. In short, your hook is created by artfully describing the symptoms of the issue you plan to solve with your writing. Rather than starting out talking about the actual issue or the subject of your content, seek to describe in great detail the current experience of your intended reader. At the end of your hook, hint that you have a solution to what ails by saying “You don’t have to put up with this…” or something similar. Once you’ve mapped out awesome headings and your initial hook, it’s time to move on to the actual body of your content.

The Primary Sections of Captivating Copy

You’ve hooked your reader with your headlines and the actual hook, now it’s time to detail the actual problem or issue which causes the symptoms you just explained in your opener. Next, you will give more detail about the particular issue and why it might keep cropping up then it is time to offer a solution. At this point you are likely less than halfway into your total word count. While in a print book the actual “solution” to the problem would likely come much further into the book, remember this is the web, and web readers want quick solutions, so now is the time to ante up the resolution. The remainder of your content will be dedicated to telling your web reader how they can turn your ideas into result or how to apply what you’ve just taught them. When you have faithfully followed the above formula you should have solid, persuasive, high quality content which will be highly optimized for search engines, resulting in increased highly targeted traffic.

Summing It Up

In order to write web content which captivates remember to focus on your target audience constantly asking yourself how they can benefit from what you are about to write. Stress the benefits of the information you are offering and make sure you are consistently using action verbs and active sentences. Spend the necessary time on your keywords and headlines rather than adding them as a slapped-on afterthought. Add images when appropriate, but use them judiciously and only add an image when it will both grab the reader’s attention and add another dimension to your writing. Finally, remember why you are a writer, and enjoy what you do for a living.

Website Content That Captivates

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

What is it about certain web content that truly captivates the reader, compelling them to read to the end of the piece? Think of it like a spellbinding novel that you were simply unable to put down until you reached the very last sentence, then found yourself disappointed that the journey was over. Unfortunately, as most web surfers are aware much of the focus tends to be on the website design while the actual content gets thrown in almost as an afterthought. Captivating content not only engages your reader, it effectively builds trust with each website visitor.

When your web content lacks hype and offers useful information, credibility is established. Should it answer your reader’s most burning questions, they will return time after time. What writers—especially those in the early stages of their career—may not realize is the secret to incredible content is rarely genius levels of ability rather is found in structure, planning and thorough research. True, these words can sound a bit boring for the writer itching to make his or her mark on the web, but like the tortoise and the hare story, success may lie in the steadier approach.

Know Your Audience

Before you can captivate your readers you must have a clear idea of who those readers are.  This is not to say you should toss out some vague demographic about your target audience being single mothers age 20-35—although that information can be helpful. Ask yourself what those who will be looking up your particular topic are interested in. Knowing what those who land on your article are looking for can help you narrow the focus of your writing, preventing you from veering off course. It’s important that you keep up with any breaking news or changes in information regarding your particular topic—when it is clear from your writing that you take the time to stay on top of things, it helps readers trust your content. Read what other authors are saying about your subject—you will likely learn something. Of course you must never plagiarize another author however learning from their style or content is always acceptable.

Using Proven Headline Formulas

In the fickle web world, your first ten-fifteen words can count more than the 500 plus words that follow. In other words, writing captivating website content can all boil down to whether your headline and subheads grab your reader’s attention or simply take up space. Many experts feel that your headline is so important that it can actually count for as much as 50% of the success of the entire page. Yet many headlines are written in haste, more as an afterthought than as a critical piece of the overall content. While coming up with one great headline after another may seem about as appealing as going to the dentist for a root canal, there are formulas in place which can help you facilitate writing your captivating headlines.

Generally speaking, create a headline which is question rather than answer-based. Ask yourself whether your headlines evoke the necessary level of curiosity which makes your reader want to continue reading. A direct statement headline can be particularly effective as can a simple how-to headline. Since readers are generally seeking specific information, the how-to headline can assure them their questions will be competently answered. The guarantee or implied benefit headline can also be very effective however you must ensure that your finished article delivers the promise you are making or implying. Your primary headline, along with your subheads can truly make or break your web content, so give them the respect they deserve. For more information about writing website content which captivates, see part two of this article!

Creativity with Usability

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Letting Go of the Words When Writing for the Web

One approach to web writing lies in thinking of your writing as you would a conversation with a friend. In other words, through your content you are essentially answering questions about a particular subject, giving information as clearly and concisely as possible. Although you won’t have a human subject to assess how your information is being received, try to anticipate the questions you might be asked and answer them as thoroughly as possible in the most succinct manner possible. In some instances you can use the questions you anticipate as subheadings then answer them in the short paragraph below.

While the goal is not to make each web page you write look like an FAQ page, keeping in mind potential questions and answering them as you write can make you a much more creative writer. Further, using the technique of conversation writing pushes you to consider what your reader really wants to know—why they came to the site in the first place. Web readers want quick, solid answers to life’s very real problems.

If you think of your article as a pyramid which answers the most important questions at the top and works down to the base with the questions of less importance, you will have a better chance at grabbing your reader’s attention and holding them to the very end. If you follow the model of web as conversation, remember that the web reader is an active participant in much of the web’s writings, meaning readers can post responses in many cases which can actually lead to a give and take conversation. Questions or comments posted by your readers can also send your writing in a new direction.

What Does Letting Go of the Words Mean?

If you are wondering about the title of this particular article—letting go of the words—really means, think of the average web reader with little to no time to find the answer to their question or concern. The successful web writer must be able to turn loose of extraneous words while keeping the essential message and information. Of course letting go of words is hardly a novel idea—it is one that is used widely in print content as well. Your goal is to cut unnecessary words, not the words which actually give your writing meaning. Read your article aloud to ensure there are no words which make your content sound vague rather than precise and ditch any of those which fail to enhance your ideas.

When Longer May Be Better

While being able to ruthlessly edit your work is essential, remember that some ideas simply take more words to express, and in the end you shouldn’t cut words to the point that the entire article makes little sense to the reader. Google’s relevancy algorithms happen to be seeking out more natural forms of writing, meaning that if your copy is great—despite the length—you will get as much traffic for the longer article as you will for the small, hyper-focused pages. In theory at least, the search engines are leaning toward richer content, meaning the more complete answers Google can provide, the higher its own value tends to be. In other words, it is to Google and other search engine’s advantage to push for more high-quality in-depth articles—which nevertheless have no extraneous words which don’t contribute to the overall effect.

Structure Your Words

Don’t forget that the structure of your web content is just as important as the words within. Structure the page so it is easily readable, breaking pages up into short logical chunks of copy. In other words, endless streams of copy—no matter how great the message—will not hold a web reader’s attention. Answer your reader’s questions in the most succinct yet creative and innovative manner possible, and you will have succeeded in your quest of great web writing.

Why Your Web Content Must Work for a Living

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

A shockingly large portion of web content is being written by those with no writing experience or those with no time to ensure the final product is worthy of taking its place on the Internet. While most all web content has—or should have—a specific goal to accomplish, unfortunately there are millions of words floating around in cyberspace with no clear purpose. Developing your content requires serious planning and effort if you want to ensure you fully meet the interests and needs of your target audience.

Content Purpose and Goals

Ask yourself first what exactly you want your words to communicate to your web readers. Every single page of your text should seek to accomplish a very specific—and measurable—goal, and that goal should fit into your overall strategy.  You may be trying to reach a specific demographic or your goal may be to rank for a particular keyword or phrase. When you have a clear goal in mind, your next step is to determine how you will write your content to most fully achieve that goal. Research is your next crucial step in writing great copy—research allows you to identify the angle or slant you plan to take with your words as well as decide on your targeted keywords. Aside from the obvious advantages to thorough research, such research can unexpectedly provide invaluable inspiration.

Shaking Up the Creative Process

When you have your strategy, keywords, research and a healthy dose of inspiration it’s time to engage in an idea free flow, also known as brainstorming. Try mixing up the brainstorming method you generally use to encourage creativity.  Freewriting is one technique writers used when suffering writer’s block which simply means you set a quantitative goal of 300 words, a page or ten minutes then write without worrying about editing as you write. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you end up with when you use this technique. Using a technique known as listing can also be valuable when writing web content. Simply jot down a list of phrases, single words, sentences, facts, questions, goals, arguments, etc. Your list will include all the elements you want your finished words to possess. This is not an outline, per se, rather more like making a “to do” list.

Drafting Your Final Piece

Once you have done your research, chosen your keywords and engaged in brainstorming or listing it’s time to put your words on your computer screen or paper. Web content must be both informative and engaging while clearly getting your message across. Adhere to best practices for web writing including chunking your content in short, concise paragraphs of around a hundred words. Introduce your key points through the use of highly descriptive headers and subheads. Use bulleted lists to make your text easier to read and to slow your reader down a bit. Use links in the body of your text sparingly as they can be a distraction to your reader. Put your most important facts right up front with less important details following. Remember your target audience at all times while writing, and although web content is generally 50% shorter than print content, don’t get too caught up in word length until it’s time to edit.

Editing Your Content

Once your draft is complete, it’s time for a thorough edit to ensure your piece is as crisp and informative as possible. Never depend 100% on your computer program’s spell check—words can be spelled correctly while making absolutely no sense within your context. After you’ve run spell check, engage in a human check meaning reading your words preferably from a printed page to see how the words actually flow. Web content can become immortal on the web—both the great and the extraordinarily bad—you want your content to reflect the degree of skill and care you’ve put into it.

Tips for Writing Better Keywords

Friday, April 20th, 2012

There has been a significant shift in how keywords are treated by search engines in the past months. Today’s search engines are more likely to ignore the once-important keyword meta tag, searching for keywords in the content of the web pages themselves. This is important to all web content writers primarily because it tells you that your keywords need to be figured out prior to writing your actual content. The keywords will then be scattered judiciously throughout your web content, concentrating them in headings and summaries.

While ensuring keywords are properly interspersed throughout the content can seem like a tedious task to many writers, it can also be the key to your success. While many writers can dislike the entire keyword process, choosing to add keywords after the content is written, this practice does not often result in a cohesive article. Waiting until the article is written to add the keywords can tend to result in sloppy overall writing, making it important to incorporate the keywords into the overall theme of your writing.

Keys to Keyword Success

Before you start writing, sit down and outline what your goal is in each particular article or other content. Then think about which keywords most deftly summarize your ideas. Answering these questions prior to actually beginning your writing is much more likely to result in high quality web content. When you have made decisions about what you want to write, then think about who you are writing it for, or who your target audience will be. When you write web content you are communicating with a specific audience, so it is important to know that audience well. If you understand the search terms your target audience will likely be using, it becomes much easier to incorporate them into your writing.

Using Keywords for the Best Results

As most writers are aware, the highest level keywords should be strategically placed in the heading and in the summary. Lead with your best material rather than waiting for your exhilarating ending. You are not writing a whodunit where the suspense builds throughout the article rather your goal is to “hook” your reader right off the bat, convincing them to continue reading. Try not to overuse your important keywords and phrases, or your entire article will come off looking sloppy and unprofessional.

Aside from the keywords you believe are most important, offer up some synonyms—after all, some people search with one set of words, while it is more natural for others to use different phrases. Think about the fact that while a great deal of searchers would type in “heart disease,” another portion would more likely search for “cardiovascular disease.” Use synonyms judiciously to avoid overuse of your primary keywords. When possible, use keyword phrases rather than single keywords, since this is more likely how web users will search.

Long Tail keywords vs. Short Tail Keywords

Keywords can simply make or break a website, and using the most effective keywords is crucial when writing web content. A short tail keyword is a phrase consisting of one to three words, while a long tail keyword is anything beyond three words. Long tail keywords tend to turn up more targeted search results, while short tail keywords may garner more results but less targeted ones. In other words, short tail keywords may bring traffic to a website, but the long tailed keywords keep the traffic firmly put. Long tail keywords are much more likely to result in true conversions while many short tail keywords will bring readers to the site but they will quickly click away.

Keywords to Avoid

In general, avoid single-word terms avoid terms that are unfocused or too broad, or those which are so specialized that nobody will search for them. In the same manner, avoid unpopular search terms and highly competitive ones which offer little hope of ranking well for. Once you have mastered the art of keywords, your writing quality will naturally improve and you will be well on your way to drawing readers to your site.

Content Strategy—Long vs. Short Articles

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Though most web writers are well aware of the need to keep their copy short and succinct, it can sometimes be difficult to determine just how much information is enough, how much is too much, and how much is just right. Depending on your intended audience, combining brief overviews with comprehensive coverage is often the best strategy.  The brief overviews come in the form of eye-catching headlines and sub-heads. The meat of the story must remain—but with fewer words than the same story in print.

Cutting Word Count without Cutting Value

While some writers may struggle to meet a designated word count many more find themselves consistently over the recommended word count. So how do you say everything you want to say while keeping your web content brief, crisp and informative? Write what you want to say then check the word count to determine how much editing is necessary. First take a critical look at your adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, pronouns and other descriptors to see what can be eliminated without sacrificing your content. Of course descriptors add color and depth to your writing, but in many cases some of them can be eliminated.

Next take a look at your copy for any redundancies such as using the phrase “past history.” Obviously history is in the past, so getting rid of the word “past” does not detract from the meaning. Also, it can be helpful to read your piece on a printed page rather than on your computer monitor. Many times seeing your words in print will help you see areas where you may have repeated yourself. Read each sentence with an eye toward ensuring it relates directly to your main theme or idea—you may be surprised at how many sentences are superfluous or do not relate.

When You Might Want a Longer Article

There is merit in the idea that in some cases, even on the Internet, a long article is the better choice. Think about who you are writing for when determining the perfect length. If you are writing for those who need a serious solution to a serious issue, then comprehensive coverage may be the better choice. On the other hand, if your goal is only to reach the largest amount of web readers possible, the better choice may be to focus on short content that is optimized for quick scanning. While it’s true that most web readers are in a hurry, many times they are looking for thorough research on a subject, and many times it’s impossible to be thorough and comprehensive in a short article.

Using Hypertext as a Solution to the Longer Article

The web offers you the ability to offer a short and long treatment for the same subject by offering short, simplified overviews with links to more in-depth pages. This approach allows you to give the hurried reader and the in-depth reader exactly what they need, while allowing the hurried reader to return when there is more time to find out more about your subject. Your ultimate goal is to offer your reader a value-filled experience and a solution to their problem or issue. Don’t simply assume that the only way to accomplish this task is through a very short article. Many times a longer article is exactly what your reader needs, or better still, combine the best of both worlds through the use of hypertext. Uppermost in your mind should be your reader’s needs. When you are able to thoroughly meet those needs, whether your article is short or long will be much less of a burning question and merely one piece of the overall formula for reaching web readers.

Why Eye-Catching Headlines are Essential

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Studies show that while approximately 75% of web readers will read the headline copy, only about 20% will continue reading the entire article. While these statistics can dismay hard-working web writers, there is good news for writers who have mastered the art of the headline. Compelling headlines are important in both print content and web content however their importance in web content perhaps edges out that of the printed page. Web content must be shorter than print content, concise and must be able to be easily and quickly scanned. Web headlines must also be short—although must clearly summarize the ensuing article.

The most important keywords must be front-loaded in web headlines and in the short amount of words allowed the headline must be rich with information. Remember that your headline is the first—and possibly only—impression you will make on a prospective reader.Further, this short, snappy headline which is chock-full of information must also be understandable when taken out of context. While this is not an issue in print content, web headlines often appear in search results without the accompanying article. Finally, a web headline allows the web reader to decide whether they even want to read the accompanying article so it must grab the reader by the collar and refuse to let go. If this sounds like a pretty tall order—it is!

Why Every Word Must Work Hard for Its Living

As you can see, headlines convey the essence of the story without requiring a click. We web readers are stingy with our clicks, and don’t want to waste them on anything which has no benefit to our specific situation. A great headline tells you with a fairly high level of certainty whether you will be interested in the rest of the story. The average headline is a mere five to eight words, so imagine the wealth of meaning which must be squeezed into such a tiny space.

Tips for Writing Persuasive Headlines

Many web writers only think of SEO keywords in terms of improving their story’s rating on Google. It’s important to remember that those same keywords can grab your web reader’s attention, causing them to click on the site. Asking questions in your headline can be a great tactic for stirring up curiosity and generating interest and discussion. Don’t be afraid to be a bit provocative, or even a tad shocking in your headline. Yes, you run the risk of offending a small percentage of your readers, but you may also pique the interest of hundreds or thousands more who will click on the link and read the story simply because of the tantalizing headline.

Should You Go for the Clever Turn of Phrase?

Because today’s web reader leads an incredibly busy life, remember they simply don’t have the time to study your page to determine whether it’s relevant to them or to their specific issue. The web reader relies on you—the writer—to tell them in a succinct manner whether the copy is worth their while to read, and you do this through your headlines. While a catchy or clever headline which gives the reader a good feel for the remainder of the article is great, a clever headline which is not followed by a great article can leave the web reader feeling cheated.

Specific Headlines Which Work

The “how-to” headline is one of the best ways to grab the attention of your reader, letting them know exactly what will follow. While how-to titles are extremely relevant they must nonetheless be used judiciously, and you absolutely must follow through with the answer to the how-to question or your reader will feel cheated. Try combining relevance with results in your headline and remember that above all else your readers are looking for the beneficial outcome even above a product or service.

Cutting the Fluff on Web Text

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Since web content should ideally be about 50% of the length of the printed word it is imperative that web writers learn to ruthlessly cut any extraneous copy from their web content. Most writers learned to write using a particular “formula” which included an introductory or lead-in paragraph. Web readers tend to completely skip the intro paragraph, skimming the page for more actionable content including features of a specific product, a bulleted list, or hypertext links. This means that should you use an introductory paragraph in your web content it must be short, snappy and get directly to the point by quickly explaining the purpose of the rest of the page. In other words, an introductory paragraph on a web page is never the place to add filler or platitudes.

Why Write an Intro at All?

Despite the fact that web readers tend to skip introductory paragraphs, they nonetheless have a valid role when writing compelling web content. Intro text can give the web reader a quick answer to the question of: “What’s this page all about?” It can also offer a context for the content which follows, but must set the stage quickly and in a no-nonsense fashion. Let your web reader know exactly what they will gain by reading the remainder of the page and do so compellingly or your web reader will be gone in the click of a finger. Even if your web reader initially skips the introductory paragraph, if it does not look long or intimidating, they may return later to gain a bit more insight into the subject. Make sure your introductory paragraph answers “what” the reader will find on the page and “why” they should care, and you will have a successful web intro.

Get to the Point and Solve the Problem

The primary reason a web reader is reading a particular site is to get specific information. The web reader wants their problem or issue solved as quickly as possible so they can leave the site and get on with their life. Most web readers are either looking to purchase a specific item, or have a question or concern they want answered immediately. The dog has swallowed a popsicle stick—what should I do? What type of resume’ grabs an employer’s attention? What will the weather be like tomorrow? What entertainment is available in Austin, Texas? These and hundreds of thousands of other questions need answering, and those answers must come in the most expeditious manner possible.

What Makes a Good Web Page?

Good web writing sticks to the facts, is simple to read and understand, and offers the web reader relevant information. Short sentences and relatively simple words are critical since the average reading level for American web readers is between sixth and eighth grade. Don’t use more than one idea per paragraph, and do your best to summarize the paragraph in the first sentence. Keep paragraphs around 5-7 lines long—once you think you are done, re-read and omit all the unnecessary words. Meaningful and informative sub-headings help the reader scan as they separate groups of information. Bulleted lists are great for offering specific facts in a concise form, but don’t overdo.

Keeping Your Web Reader’s Attention

Never assume your reader has read the preceding pages such as a print reader would do. Web users can enter a page from a variety of points therefore each block of text must stand on its own. Remember, if you are unable to hold your reader’s attention from paragraph to paragraph, other tempting distractions are simply a click away. Placing a compelling image on your page may coax some readers to stay and read however you must ensure the image doesn’t completely distract from the text. Asking questions is a good way to keep your web reader’s attention focused, especially if that question is germane to their own life and the answer could make their life easier or better in some way. Humans are curious animals, and when a question is asked we want to know the answer. It is imperative that you use concise details and snappy narrative if you want your reader to read your page from start to finish, so do away with the fluff and alter your concept of the “proper” way to write good copy.

How Writing Styles Must Differ for Print vs. Web

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Readers of the Web skim while print readers read. In a nutshell, this is without a doubt the most important fact which those who write for the web must remember. Even avid readers who read a wide variety of print materials on a regular basis will still read differently when they are reading on their computer, iPad or other electronic device. Not only do web writers skim content, they flat out ignore details in order to read faster and may even forego traditional left-right viewing habits in order to read more quickly. Skimming habits dictate that readers focus on the headlines, summaries and captions while quickly skimming the copy. Very little in-depth reading will take place other than for the shortest paragraphs. Should you nab a reader who does read the entire web page from start to finish, they will still have likely only absorbed some 75% of the entire content.

Why the Different Reading Styles?

Reading web content from a computer monitor not only vastly increases eye strain and fatigue it is at least 25% slower for most people than reading from the printed page. Rather than the traditional left to right reading pattern, most web users will scan center, then left, then right. Generally speaking the only time a web user will read in the left to right pattern is when they are reading text with a clear intention of both reading the entire text and fully understanding the content. Even in the case where the reader has the intent of reading the entire page, the eyes will still tend to skip from word to word, making small backward movements.

Keeping it Short and Simple

Should the reader be scanning quickly to garner information—as most web reading is done—the eyes will skip randomly from sentence to sentence or paragraph to paragraph in order to find the critical information in the quickest way possible. For most of us who are seeking specific information, when a quick scan doesn’t reveal that information we will click away from the website onto another one without a second thought. Remember too that when web readers click onto a page with a huge amount of text, they are much less likely to even give the page a cursory scan.

Print Content Controls the Reader

Unlike web content, most print content is written with a clear introduction, a series of carefully crafted arguments and a final conclusion. Information is presented in a logical sequence with outside clues peppering the pages. In short, print content is linear while web content is not, and print content is author-driven while web content is more likely to be reader-driven.  Most people who read specific types of books have read the same type of book in the past and will likely read more of them in the future, therefore each genre has a particular type of written “formula” to follow in order to keep a firm hold on their readers.

The printed word has a kind of control of its reader that web content simply does not which is the primary reason web content must grab the reader’s attention—and hold it—using short paragraphs and sentences as well as eye-catching headlines and informative paragraph headings. While print content tells a story, the only goal of web content—at least most of the time—is a single-minded pursuit of actionable content.

Web Readers are Skeptics

Web readers are much less likely to believe hype and to require that claims be firmly backed up with facts. Even considering that humans are skeptical by nature the Internet can turn even the most trusting of us into a pure cynic. After all, the web is filled to the brim with a fair amount of poorly constructed content, claims bordering on the outrageous and graphics practically jumping off the pages vying for our attention.

If you remember nothing else when writing for the web, remember to cut your copy by at least 50%, write in short, concise paragraphs with engaging headlines and never forget that most web users have a specific goal in mind and will ruthlessly reject most anything the site is attempting to push. Further, if you are a former print writer, remember that a print reader fully expects to follow the author’s lead while web readers are intent on constructing their own experience by piecing together information from many different sources. Following these web writing rules will ensure your web content is read—um, skimmed—by many!