How to Make Web Content Work for You
You’ve probably known it. Writing for the Web requires a different approach than writing for print documents. As more and more web sites are available, effective web content writing becomes a critical skill every blogger should master.
Whether you are trying to build your audience or sell products or services, effective web contents play a significant role both in getting traffic, grab people’s attention and then convert them into loyal readers or buyers.
Paper (Print) vs. Web Content Writing
Web writing and print writing are two different things because people don’t read information on the Web in the same way as they read printed material.
Some of the interesting tidbits that may be of interest for bloggers and web publishers:
- Web users expect content to be loaded fast.
- 79 percent of Web users scan pages. They don’t read word-by-word. Scannability is a key factor to consider.
- Only 16 percent read word-by-word.
- Web readers are three times more likely to limit reading to short paragraphs than newspaper readers.
- On average most readers only absorb 75 percent of the content even if they read the entire page.
This is because reading on a computer screen is 25 percent slower than reading from print. For this reason, web readers usually scan center-left-right instead of left-right. Web reading also strains the eyes.
Here’s how content format and style can help in measured usability:
- Conciseness helps increase measured usability by 58 percent.
- Scannable content improves usability by 47 percent.
- Objective style instead of promotional style is responsible for 27 percent of improved usability.
Combining these three changes into a single site, in his experiment, resulted in 124 percent higher measured usability.
In-depth studies are available from UseIt.com.
If you think about it, writing for the web also involves an entirely different set of tools. While in print readers can’t do much but read and interpret visual images, on the web platform readers are able to click on links to get more information.
They can also interact and give feedback easily by using contact form or voting system. And when it comes to visual elements, animations can significantly improve the ability to deliver messages, hence requiring less text.
Let’s not forget that audio and video are now common formats for web content, which enable web publishers to convey messages complete with the emotional elements.
Fast Track to Effective Web Writing
While there is nothing etched in stone, good web writing recommends that you follow several guidelines. They will increase your chance to write more structured and compelling content.
Here’s the simple process that I and other fellow bloggers use for creating high quality blog content:
- Research your audience. This requires a bit of work. If you are planning to drive traffic from search engines, which keyword are you targeting? What’s the profile of the searcher for that keyword? Do they know something about the topic? You should approach your writing from a different perspective for search user using the phrase “ford car review” and “buy ford car.” The former needs more information while the latter perhaps doesn’t mind a bit of push to buy.
- Identify the purpose of the content. At this stage, you should have known what your blog post is for. Obviously this post is for education and information. However, as a blogger, you are free to write an entertaining post. Perhaps you want to break news or rebut on a point that you disagree on.
- Pick a title. For me, title helps me focus on the topic, so it always comes first. The first draft of the title doesn’t always have to be the final one though. Think of a title as the advert for your content. It might be the only thing the readers see, if you fail to convey your core message in a compelling manner. That’s how important it can be.
- Plan for the content. A topic such as web writing may need volumes of books to cover thoroughly so when I decided to write about this, I narrow down the scope intentionally. Mainly I want it to educate readers about the difference between web and print, cover the process and help writers focus on the right thing. If you want details, you can expect more posts to come real soon. They will be interlinked when they are ready to create an article series. This approach ensures that readers who are interested in pursuing further about the topic could find more information.
- Create an outline. Divide the post into a few sections with their own subheads. Each of them is a mini article by itself. In my experience, this makes the writing process so much easier.
- Start immediately. You are going to lose the majority of the readers if you put up lengthy introductory paragraphs. Get to the point quickly and give at least a reason why they should continue reading.
- Be useful and resourceful. You don’t need unique ideas. Focus on being useful and link to resources. If you can’t compete on the idea level, make your content more useful than others.
- Show your personality. While it is acceptable to expound on other people’s idea, you should have your own personality. It is what connects you with the readers socially.
- Create scannable content. Web users rarely read word by word but you can increase the amount of information they absorb by writing scannable content. Use text formatting such as bold and italics, add pictures, use bullet points, keep paragraphs and sentences short and allow a good amount of white space in your design.
- Close with a call to action. If you want the readers to subscribe to your RSS feed, ask for it. Don’t presume the readers know what to do.
The Role of Design for the Web / Blog
I know many web designers are going to disagree with my perspective but this argument happens repeatedly every time someone claims that content is king.
In my opinion, content is king when it comes to building a good web site. Placing this statement in context helps you see it from my standpoint.
People who disagree usually presume that because content is king, nothing else matters. Certainly if content is king, there must be the queen, rooks, bishops, knights, pawns and countrymen (and women). That what makes the whole empire.
At other times, they start to put forward other factors such as relationship with the audience, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, relationship matters, but it is not part of building a good web site or blog. Relationship is the marketing and promotion part.
Now to design. Without a doubt, good design can help highlight important points and convert readers to subscribers or prospects to customers. In fact, that should be the main purpose of design, i.e. to support content.
Oftentimes, designers think design is everything but it’s not. Text (content) without any design still works, but design without text means nothing.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is through an example. When I create landing page for a promotion, I usually start with the content / copy. I write in a text editor with no formatting at all.
After that, the design kicks in. How do I make a certain point stands out? Can I highlight this form so the readers can’t miss it? If I want to make sure the readers see the incentive for opting in, I will use different design elements and techniques to lead the readers’ eyes to it.
This approach has served me very well. It keeps me from spending too much time on unnecessary tweaks. The point is, many designs are merely eye-candies that may look cool the first time but actually worsen conversions.
Sidenote: More and more, in the future, web designers who know marketing will have an unfair advantage because they sell not only through their work but also results, as in increase in sales and other metrics.
Promotion and Marketing – Do You Need Them?
It’s not what most people thought it is. Marketing finally has become fun thanks to content marketing. Nowadays, if you focus on providing value through content, prospects actually come to you instead of the other way around.
Don’t get me wrong. Advertising can accelerate your ability to reach the crowd. But still with it, you should integrate content as part of the lead nurturing and customer retention strategies.
After going through the process of content creation and design to support the content, finally now is the time to reach out.
The Web is a wonderful place for publishers and bloggers. Remember that I mentioned above that you don’t need to have unique ideas every time? I mean it.
Chances are even the most popular bloggers are far from reaching the entire readers. It’s no surprise that Microsoft needs to have a huge marketing department to get their products well known globally. But I bet not everyone knows about all of their products. Personally, I know only a few that I use regularly like the operating system and Office suite.
The point is, don’t worry about ideas. Once you write, most likely you will have your own unique twists. If you focus on becoming useful and resourceful in the posts, you will eventually stand out.
It is important to be unique, but what can a blogger who have a million subscribers do? If he is an advocate of his ideas, perhaps he should encourage other bloggers to spread those ideas further instead of bashing others for not being original.
Making It Work for You
As you begin to get traffic from both new and returning readers, you should now get feedback from your audience. Another post, another opportunity to learn from your readers. That’s how you truly learn which type of content really works for you. With this new insight, you are ready to create more contents and increase your hits ratio.
In summary, you need to write with a purpose. Write with a strategy and use the feedback repeatedly to improve and become better. A quick note about feedback though. It is critical that you know how to distinguish about the voice of the public at large and the minority whose changes only satisfy a small group of people.
You need to listen to the former. It’s not about making everyone’s happy. In fact, most often than not, changing things to cater to the latter may hurt other groups of audience. In revenue generating sites, that always means losing loyal readers and revenue. So beware!
Now go out and spread some good ideas.
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