Essential Elements of Online Copy: Part 2
Writing for the Web is not the same as writing for print. The fundamentals of structure and persuasion are the same, but some of the execution needs to be approached differently.
Last week, I gave you the first five essential things you need to do when writing copy for an online audience. You need to
- Provide immediate focus …
- Cut ruthlessly …
- Give a clear call-to-action …
- Pay attention to Search Engine Optimization …
- Capture a unique voice …
In today’s article, we’re going to look at five more essentials that will help you reach more of your target audience and hold their attention longer.
6. Make it Scannable.
With all the information available on the Internet — ranging in quality from excellent to garbage — people have become very adept at scanning content. They can glance down a page and determine one of three things very quickly: they’ve found what they’re looking for, they haven’t found it, or it’s going to take too much work to figure it out.
If your visitors are falling into that third category, you aren’t doing your job. But you can easily fix that by making your content more scannable. Do this in three steps:
- Include lots of subheads that capture key points and benefits — if all a reader looks at are your subheads, she should still know enough to act on what she’s read.
- Include bullet lists wherever appropriate.
- Write in short sentences and paragraphs. Occasionally include single-sentence paragraphs.
7. Make it Shareable.
Social media has a lot of influence over the ebb and flow of traffic on the Internet. If you don’t make your content easy and desirable to share, then you’re not doing as much as you can to attract visitors and reach a broader audience. How do you make content “shareable”?
Try these strategies:
- Provide an easy way to share, such as a Google +1 button or a Twitter “Tweet This” button.
- Make your content media-rich — people share photos, movies, and infographics more than text-only articles.
- Write great content — quality is probably the number one factor in whether or not your content will be shared.
- Share it yourself.
- Open up comments and engage with commenters.
- Start a conversation. Ask for opinions or advice.
8. Always Provide Value.
Much of the content online is a rehash of something that someone else wrote. It’s good practice to riff off of other items you see online — news items, blog posts, even tweets — but if you don’t provide something new, then you’re just providing clutter.
Make sure every piece of content you post — whether it’s a promotion or an article or something else — offers your reader at least one valuable takeaway. Do this, and you’ll train your audience to always read what you write.
9. Make it Media-Rich.
Okay, I know I already said this under “Make it Shareable,” but it’s an important consideration whenever you write anything online. The Web is an interactive medium and the more media-rich you make your content, the more interaction you will get.
At the very least include images. But be careful. Stock photos may make your post look pretty, but they really don’t add any value from a reader’s point-of-view. In fact, according to eye-tracking studies, relevant images of actual people within a company or of the product attract reader attention, but stock images are all but ignored. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include stock images — they can help with your shareability — but think about what useful images are possible and include those first.
Don’t stop at just images. Consider video clips, audio clips, infographics, PDF reports, screencasts … anything that will enhance the value of what you’re writing. In other words, take full advantage of the medium you’re working in.
10. Do Your Research.
On the Internet, transparency rules. You can’t make up facts, you can’t fabricate stories and expect no one to call foul. When you’re writing for the Internet, make sure everything you write is true and that you have the evidence to back it up. Sometimes it even pays to question what you think you already know. For example, if you have a study that you’ve seen cited in many other articles and that you intend to use, see if you can find the original source. It might be eye-opening.
Online, it’s important to take every reasonable step to respect your readers’ intelligence and to lead from a place of integrity. That requires research. Cut corners here and eventually it will come back to bite you.
Writing for the Web is amazing. You have access to a vast audience you can reach at very little cost. But, so does everybody else. That means your writing has to stand out. To make something stand out online, it has to be easily scanned and easily shared, it has to deliver value, and it has to be honest and original. Take full advantage of all the possibilities, and make your content media-rich, too. Do these things and you’ll not only attract an audience … you’ll also gain their loyalty, an important key to your online writing success.
The Professional Writers’ Alliance
At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »