Writing for the Web*
I learned grammar in the 1950’s/1960’s. We parsed (diagrammed) sentences. We learned that complex compound sentences were the mark of educated people. We used colons, semi-colons, ellipses, etc.; and revered the Oxford comma. Our sentences were full of filler (we called it “nuance”). Unmodified nouns (except for proper names) were rare.
That was then.
In many ways, writing is now taught 100% differently from then. Concise, pithy sentences are the goal. Writers avoid adverbs when possible. Adjectives are for those getting paid by the word for fiction. The less punctuation needed to make a sentence clear, the better.
Do I like it? Not one bit! Do I follow these guidelines when web writing? You bet your sweet hiney I do.
The truth is, whether we writers want to admit it or not, good web writing is different from other types of good writing.
GOOD WEB WRITING HAS A SPECIFIC PURPOSE
Good web writing aims to get the reader to do something: order a product, click on a link, share something on social media. Web writing is the textual equal of sound bites. It breaks up ideas with “calls to action.”
A FEW WORDS ABOUT KEYWORDS
Good web writing also utilizes Search Engine Optimization. This is using keywords, or keyword phrases, to cause search engines like Google to recognize your work. This practice is part art, part statistics. You want to use keywords that are the things your audience will use to search for your product or service. However, you want to use them judiciously, so you don’t trip the search engines’ algorithms against keyword stuffing. You also need to know what your client wants. While most clients want a 2-3% keyword density, there is always the chance they will want a different amount. Not adhering to the client’s preference can get your work rejected.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE ATTITUDE
Good web writing is also relentlessly positive in nature. You do not ignore issues. You just find positive ways to state them. “Our hotel is perfect for when your family wants a quiet getaway,” as opposed to “Our hotel is miles from the center of town.”
Another aspect of good web writing is only promising what the buyer can expect. Rather than saying that your pan is nonstick, say that the pan’s surface is resistant to food sticking. Rather than saying it is “heat-resistant,” say your pan is “oven safe up to ‘X’ degrees.”
THE ONE AND ONLY…
The aim of every client is to have you turn out unique writing. This means that even if they provide one sentence product descriptions, they want you to write between 100 and 300 words about their product so that it does not copy what anyone else has written. Your best investment to achieve this is an anti-plagiarism program, such as Copyscape. When I do web writing, I use Copyscape Premium. For $.05/search, it makes sure that when I submit any writing, it will come through as clean. Since plagiarism is one of the quickest ways to get fired in web-writing, I consider Copyscape an essential. There are also free or low-cost applications, like Hemingway, that highlight style errors. If you are considering web-writing as a career, such an app is one of the best investments you can make.
Most companies provide style guides if they have large amounts of work. This ensures uniform results no matter how many different writers are on the project. The most common style is APA (American Psychological Association) Style. You can find out more about APA Style here.
The good news is that proper web writing is not hard to learn. If you learned to write when I did, you may have to break a few habits: Two spaces after a period has pretty much gone the way of the dodo. Few clients want you to use the Oxford comma, but the ones that do are almost religious about it. You can change these habits; your web writing will be the better for doing so.
*NOTE: Just for the heck of it, this post has been run through both Hemingway and Copyscape.