Writing for the Web Means New Rules
I spent Thursday evening editing a blog post for a new client looking to re-establish his online presence. His original draft contained the primary elements to convey his message, but like many people who don’t write for a living, he struggled to make it ‘blog-worthy.’ What we learned about writing in school is not the same as writing for the web. That’s where I come in. I managed to eliminate two of the four pages of text, establish a conversational tone and craft a succinct message.
Fortunately, my client agreed that the piece flowed much better, after my edits, and he was grateful for my explanation about the changes I made.
What I advised him is what I tell everyone who desires to refresh their writing style for the web. Perhaps I can help you, too. Here it goes…
Establish your voice. Blogs are not white papers. Many of us who follow bloggers do so because we know the person and we like both what they have to say and how they say it. Blog posts have a conversational tone and the best blogs are those that offer a unique perspective. My client, Lennie, is a great example. He’s an elder law attorney with offices in Florida and North Carolina. While others in his field are writing about ‘10 things to put in your will,’ Lennie is writing about how smart seniors do dumb things.
Less is more. Make every word count. In the book Traction, the author Gino Wickman tells a story about a previous business partner who presented a lengthy business plan to the company. Wickman’s father asked, “Can you condense it to 10 pages?” He did. Then, he asked him to condense it to just two pages. After some frustration, he managed to do it. The simplified approach is generally the best approach. Cut anything unnecessary.
Write for your audience. It’s about them, not you. We should write conversationally, but remember that we are writing for our readers, not ourselves. Our message should be delivered in a way that our audience will understand it. For example, in the post I edited for my client, he shared an example of bilingual translation to illustrate his point about communication. While his example was not wrong, it was complex. I revised and simplified his example to appeal to his millennial readership: communication via text message.
Answer: ‘So what and who cares?’ Give people something worth their time. My college journalism professor said everything we write should answer the questions, “so what and who cares?” If you can’t answer those questions with your content, don’t bother. If in doubt, use RITE as a litmus test: Relevant, Interesting, Timely, Entertaining.
Craft a strong, enticing headline. If you want people to read your content, you must tell them why. Your headline is the ‘why’ (or, if done poorly, the ‘why not.’) The headline is your bait, BUT be sure it’s relevant to the content they are about to consume. This is important for two reasons: People will not read your content again if they see it was click bait. Google is smart and will penalize your ranking. A few hard and fast rules to keep in mind… Keep the headline to 60 characters or less, create a unique title, and use keywords but do not keyword-stuff. (Moz explains further).
The same professor who advised us to answer the content questions ‘so what and who cares,’ offered another lesson. In my second year of college, he gave us the opportunity to determine our own grade. As an overachiever, I believe I earned an ‘A’ and wrote that in my final portfolio. He gave me an ‘A-‘ and wrote back, “Rachel…you have a way to go, but you’re on your way!”
This is my takeaway for you: Writing blog posts takes practice, but by consistently employing these strategies, you’re on your way.