The ultimate guide to quality web writing

web writing

Web writing is so different from writing for print. And the reason for this is not hard to understand. Most of the time, people don’t read on the web. They scan. So, how do you catch their attention? How do you ensure that they stay on your page, and read the full article?

This is only one challenge. A second and bigger challenge is to bring the readers to your page. Web pundits discovered quite early that web writing must be search engine friendly. After all, eight out of ten new visitors who arrive at your site are sent by search engines.

A third challenge is to spark the interest of the web users to come back to your site, and read more articles. This can only happen if they find your writing readable, and easy to understand.


# 3 key characteristics of good web writing

You will be considered a good web writer if your writing is:

  • Searchable, that is search engines are able to find your articles
  • Organised in chunks so that web users are able to process it better
  • Readable, that is it should be written simply for the web users to understand it easily.

Let’s look at each web writing skill separately.

# Searchable Writing

All web writing must be search engine friendly.  Otherwise the chances of your web article being found by a reader are very slim.  You must try and figure out as to what the web users are searching for.

Let’s say you want to write an article on the best media schools in Noida. Your preparation should start with the search words or keywords that the web users are likely to enter. Would it be media schools? Would it be media schools in India? Or would it be media schools in Noida?

You will notice that media schools as a search word is too generic. The results will throw up media schools from across the world. Such keywords are called broad keywords. They are responsible for only 30% of web searches.

The more powerful keywords are those that are better targeted. Since your article is on media schools in Noida then your keyword should be media schools in Noida. It can also be media schools in NCR, because Noida is part of NCR. Such keywords are called long tail keywords, and account for 70% of web searches. ( See also: Want to rank high in Google, use long tail keywords)

The next step is to insert the keyword(s) in your web article. There are eight places where you need to insert the keyword:

# 1. Headline: The headline is like a virtual gateway, a web beacon that guides the web user to the article. It should ideally include the keyword. For instance, the headline for your Noida media schools article can be:

3 best media schools in Noida

# 2. First paragraph: Your first paragraph must include the keyword, ideally in the first sentence. This tells the search engine that the article is about media schools in Noida.

# 3. Body Text: There is no clear cut rule as to how many times your article should include the keyword. However, the broad consensus is that it should be around three percent. If your article is of 100 words then the keyword should appear three times. Web writers who stuff their articles with keywords run the risk of being blacklisted by search engines. So, you should use the keyword judiciously. It should be spread across the text, and not bunched at one or two places.

# 4. Page url: This is not in your hands. It depends on the programmer who has created the content management system. However, if you are in a position to influence the programmer or are using a blogging platform like WordPress then you must ensure that the headline is part of the article’s url. This way you will ensure that the keyword appears in the Page Url.

# 5. Page title: This is another feature of your site/blog that you must activate. The page title must be the same as the headline. When you do this, you will notice that your keyword is part of the page title.

# 6. Image Alt: Photographs supplement web articles, adding value to web writing. They also provide you one more area where you can enter the keyword. The HTML prompt where you enter the keyword is called Image Alt.

# 7. Caption: Another place where you can insert the keyword is the caption that describes the action happening in the photograph.

# 8. Crossheads: You should try and insert the keyword in one or two crossheads.

Your keywords are like signals for the search engines. They will index your article for being served whenever a web user searches for Media schools in Noida.

# Chunking

Your next big task is to keep the reader on the page. To do this, you need to organise your web writing in simple units called chunks. The eyes of your reader will then move slowly over each chunk, instead of descending rapidly if your web writing has no breaks but is organised like a wall of text.  This is important to understand, and implement.

Research conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group shows, 79% of web readers scan the page. They do not read word for word as print readers do. They skip sentences and even paragraphs if the report does not interest them.

Even more significant is the rapid drop in user attention as they move down the page. The first paragraph is scanned by 81% readers; the second paragraph by 71% readers; the third by 63% readers; and the fourth by 32%.

Chunking changes their reading patterns. It induces them to stop, and read more sentences/paragraphs if your web writing is organised in visually distinct content units.

There are four ways in which you can chunk your web writing. These are:

  1. Bulleted lists: They help you organise connected points in an orderly manner, and make reading easier. The web user can scan the lines quickly, and grasp the important points of the story. It is important to keep the points short, so that the bulleted list stands out visually, and catches the web users’ attention.
  2. Crossheads and Subheads: These are two smart ways to chunk content. Crossheads are short headlines that introduce a new section in your web writing. They make the web users stop, and ponder whether they should read the text beneath. Subheads introduce new points within a chunk or a section, and are placed at the head of a paragraph. Both crossheads and subheads are set in bold type, so that they are easily noticeable.
  3. Summary text: This is another good way to arrest user attention. It is placed beneath the headline, and is set in a smaller font as compared to the headline. The summary text is built around an important point which does not figure in the headline. It gives the reader one more reason to rad the article.
  4. Highlighted keywords: Keywords that are likely to catch the attention of the web users can be set in bold or in colour. They need to be chosen carefully, the idea being that each highlighted keyword should hold the promise of providing extra information to the web users on subjects of their interest.

(Read also: How to keep readers on your web page  ; 7 findings that will change the way you write)

# Readable Writing

All writing has to be simple and concise. This rule applies to all forms of media, and web is no different. So, if you want your web articles to be read then you must master the craft of writing articles that can be read and understood easily, and quickly.

However, this is easier said than done. And I am sure you also know this truth. Here are seven tips to make your web writing readable.

# 1. Write as you speak: Have you ever thought why some people are so easy to follow while some are almost impossible to understand? The reason is that the best communicators are those who use simple, commonplace words. They don’t rant on and on. But use short sentences to make their point. This is what you also need to do. You must learn to write as you speak.

# 2. Go for the second person: Newspapers have traditionally used the third person to communicate news. It is formal, and precise. However, the bloggers have found that it is more useful to be conversational. You too can adopt the same style of web writing. Use the second person to write your blog posts, articles etc. You will make more friends. You will also notice that sentences that start with “you” are easier to write, and easier to read.

# 3. Ensure Clarity: You can achieve this if you build your sentences around a single idea.  The sentences will stay short and readability will improve. The readability will improve further if you remove unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. Another useful way to improve readability is to use active voice.   (See also: 5 easy ways to improve your news writing)

# 4. Write for your audience: The first question that you need to ask is: What is the purpose of your writing? If the purpose is to write a research paper then by all means use complex and technical words. Your audience will understand.  But if you are writing for the layman then use words that everyone must understand. Make sure that your sentences don’t run past the 20-word mark. Also, your paragraphs should be made of two or, at most, three sentences. Your audience will like it.

# 5. Add value: The most readable web writing is that which gives the readers something to contemplate or chew upon. And this should be your goal too. You must add to the reader’s understanding by providing relevant examples, explanations, comparisons or analysis. Shallow, superficial or recycled articles are easy to write. But they are unreadable.

# 6. Don’t beat about the bush:  You must come straight to the point. Avoid wasting the reader’s time through long winding intros or complex explanations. (Read also: 7 online writing tips for beginners)

About Sunil Saxena 281 Articles

Sunil Saxena is an award winning media professional with over three decades of experience in New Media, Social Media, Mobile Journalism, Print Journalism, Media Education and Research.

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