Writing for the web can be very different than writing for an offline medium. Because most content appears on the same page as image ads along with links to other options for the readers attention, it is crucial to alter the writing style to be effective. I’ve been writing online articles for more than 15 years, and the point of this article is to share the top four tips I’ve learned.
Have an Outline
Every article that I write begins with a bullet point outline. I want to make the written content easily scanned so that a reader can go through all the words if it’s a point they really want to dive into, but I also want to give them the opportunity to skip that section in case it’s not something they’re particularly interested. Every person viewing the article is going to have an opinion on what’s important to them so making it easier pick and choose the subtopics will greatly increase the amount of time someone spends on the page.
Research and Reference, but NEVER Copy
Over the years, I’ve needed to write many articles on topics that I have no background. Business owners often outsource content to help their site, and they have extremely high expectations for accuracy. If you have the ability to write the article from your own background fantastic, but if you limit your writing to areas that you’re already an expert in, then you’ll be greatly limited in the number of articles you can right. Additionally, even if you’re an expert in a field, it’s rarely going to be something that can be written without referencing an outside source. When you do the research, always read the material in one window and write your content in a second. You should never copy/paste phrases from your source material. Even if you’re going base your article greatly from a single source, you should write it fully in your voice.
Understand Your Audience and the Site
As a professional writer, I create more than a hundred articles per month for three sites. When I write for Yahoo, I write for a broad audience and target general interest pieces. I keep all technical jargon out of the work entirely. I also assume that most people viewing my content are first time readers who are reading because of the topic rather than because they follow my thoughts in an area. The next site I write for is CastingMaster which is a entertainment site based on reality shows. This site has a lot of repeat visitors, and the group is building some terminology. I will use some jargon words especially if they are listed in a FAQ or terminology page. The other site I write for is an e-commerce site that sells Venetian masks. This site is visited by serious collectors so it’s important to use the precise words. The best example of this would be colors. If I were writing for Yahoo, then I may describe something as pink, but describe the exact same item on a niche site as the color like Fuchsia, Amaranth, or Carmine.
Optimize Quality vs Quantity
The final key is to understand how much time to spend on each article. After research, a medium quality article will take about 60 minutes. If I am writing a feature article that will be an entry point for a lot of people, then I will write a medium quality article, but then spend about 30 minutes revising the article to rephrase portions simply to make it more crisp. There some occasions when you will may be asked to write for a major site who have incredible high quality standards. In these cases, I would recommend spending about 90 more minutes doing the editing phase a few more times each time just trying to make it better with each iteration. A lot of beginning writers really struggle understanding the benefit of the good enough articles. As someone who spends about 200 hours per month writing, then it can be far more beneficial to have 200 medium quality articles to share a point rather than having 70 that are just stellar. When thinking about how much effort to put in an article think about how popular you expect it to become. A small niche article may only receive a few hundred views so spending three hours simply doesn’t produce a solid ROI.
Finally, remember to enjoy the writing. This is a very creative exercise especially when you have the chance to write on topics you choose. If you are unhappy in an area or get blocked, then step away and take a break. You an either write on a different topic to help get through the block.