Some people think that "writing is writing," and the same skills and approaches apply to web content writing as to penning magazine or news articles. This is not the case; readers approach websites very differently than print media, placing a different set of demands on online content writing. Your writing style must adapt to take advantage of those differences, or readers will ignore your content writing.
People Don't Actually Read
If you put a lot of work into packing your website with paragraphs of valuable information, then surely your audience will pore over every word, right? Wrong. Whether because computer screens tend to cause eye strain, or due to the sheer quantity of internet content, people don't really read websites. 79 percent of internet users skim online articles and websites, rather than reading word-by-word. Their eyes wander the page, scanning for important words and phrases. Long paragraphs blur into "walls of text" that most people just skip.
So how do you get people to read your content? Change the format. Break down your ideas into easily digestible chunks, using short paragraphs and sentences. Organize important information in a visually-accessible manner, using informative headings, bulleted lists, colored or bold text for important keywords, and hypertext links. Links serve two purposes: they make your content seem more authoritative, and they highlight keywords.
Trim the Excess
Most users spend a surprisingly short time on any given web page. While interesting and useful content might hold a reader's interest for a few more seconds, people's attention spans on the internet are fairly brief. If you want to deliver the maximum amount of information in the short span of time a visitor spends on your page, your content writing style needs to reflect that brevity.
Expect to use half the number of words you'd use in writing for print. Unless you're writing to a very specialized audience, keep your word choices simple and accessible. That opens your content up to a wider audience, with varying levels of English fluency. Short sentences might feel choppy, but they're easier to parse. Go back and edit! Read through your content again, asking yourself, "Is there a simpler way to say this?" Focus on making your content easy and quick to read.
Most Web users find sales language and hyperbolic claims annoying. Instead of being enticed by assertions of "the world's greatest" this, or "the absolute best" that, people just roll their eyes and hit the Back button. Moreover, hyperbolic sales phrases actually make text take longer to read, because the reader's brain takes time to analyze and reject the exaggerated claim before moving on. When you only have a few seconds to grab the reader's attention, you don't want them to waste time on processing superlatives that just make you look less credible.
Your content writing should focus on objective descriptions and factual assertions whenever possible. Even if you're trying to make a persuasive point or sell a product, outlandish claims are a disadvantage. Keep your headings and subtitles meaningful and straight-forward, rather than cute or clever. Hyperlinks support your credibility by showing you can "back up" your claims.
Writing Around Keywords
Your audience will never set eyes on your content unless their search engine leads them to it. Search engines zero in on keywords queried by users, so if you want your content to show up, those terms need to appear a few times in the body of your content. Work them in as naturally as possible; your keywords should make sense contextually, and not stick out like a sore thumb. Focus on content first, though; if your content writing is awkward and repetitive, your readers will just navigate away. And remember that your writing must be unique; search engines disregard copied text.
Have you noticed these habits in your own Web surfing? What other traits appeal to you, or turn you off, in website content?