How is web content different from print?
The major difference between web content and print is the way we digest the information.
With print media, such as newspapers, magazines and information guides, we tend to read each sentence or section. Reading from a screen slows us down, causing us to scan rather than read word for word while searching for relevant information.
In essence, web content should be easier to read, and we’ll show you how to do that in a moment...
Defining your aim
There are many reasons for writing website content, but in order to write effective copy, answer this question: what is your aim?
Consider your goals and objectives, such as attracting new customers or engaging with old ones, as well as your services.
E-commerce websites will largely need their content to sell. However, a start-up might want to build their brand and reputation, while a training provider or professional services company might want to establish themselves as an authority in their field by offering value-added content and free resources.
Things to consider
Before you start writing, use the following checklist:
- Audience: define exactly who needs your services. Are you aiming at a B2B or B2C audience? If you’re placing a link to this page somewhere else, what questions will it need to answer?
- USPs:What are the Unique Selling Points (benefits) of your business, product or service? This is what sets you apart from your competition.
- Ethos: whether you are a business, entrepreneur, charity or blogger, you will have a style of address. Stick to it as this is a defining aspect of your brand and will need to come across in your content. If in doubt, opt for a friendly yet professional tone.
- Call to action: what action do you want the reader to take? E.g. make a booking, enquire, download a free ebook, sign up to your newsletter… Ensure you feature this, usually at the end of your content.
Things to include
In order for your web content to be easy to read and achieve its aims, here are some features you will need:
Headlines vary from attention-grabbing to informative, but all must relate to the purpose of your content. In general, headlines using simple language of no more than six words long perform better.
Your target audience will define the kind of language you use, with niche sectors needing more industry-specific knowledge. Try to use words of no more than two syllables where possible, sentences of around 25 words and paragraphs of 2-3 sentences. Keep capitals to a minimum – they stall the reader.
The Flesch–Kincaid readability test can show you the reading age of your content based on its complexity. Since the average reading age in the UK is 9 years old, your copy should come as close to this as possible without dumbing down.
Content should be insightful and helpful (think ‘how to’ guides, advice and news), not just waffle or overt self-promotion. Stats and testimonials help reinforce your message and add credibility, and don’t forget your persuasive call to action at the end of every page.
Engaging tone of voice
Open your copy with a question or problem the reader might need a solution to. Then build a sustained argument for your services using your biggest benefits (USPs) first. Always address the reader as ‘you’ and keep the emphasis on them as much as possible as opposed to ‘we’, ‘I’ or ‘us’.
The active voice in also more engaging than the passive voice: ‘We reached our sustainability targets in 2016’ as opposed to, ‘Our sustainability targets were reached in 2016’.
TIP: Create a style guide to ensure your content is consistent across your pages as well as with offline marketing.
Use other content
The fewer senses readers engage, the quicker they lose interest. Infographics, videos (behind the scenes, tutorials), quizzes and tests, ebooks and meaningful, high-quality images all help to hook your reader.
Bullet points help break up several ideas, services and product features for an easy-to-scan page.
<b>Bold</b>, <u>underline</u> and <i>italics</i> can all add emphasis and help draw your reader’s eye to important information such as contact details. Be careful not to overdo this or the necessary information won’t stand out.
Divide your content into sections with a relevant subheading. Time-poor readers will be able to scan for the information they need, resulting in less frustration and a lower bounce rate.
Pepper your content with links to internal and reputable external pages to improve your search ranking. Linking to other resources on your site at the end of a page or after your customer has completed an action can make your content ‘sticky’, keeping readers on your site for longer.
Use specific search terms your readers might enter into search engines. This will improve your ranking and help drive traffic to your landing page. These are usually a defining feature or service accompanied by a geographical indicator, for example: ‘content marketing Lancaster’.
Since there’s fierce competition for more popular search terms, it can pay to use long-tail and more focused keywords. A tool like AdWords’ keyword planner can help.
TIP: don’t stuff your content with keywords, at least once is fine. Otherwise, you could be punished by Google and your customers.
Writing for a new site vs an existing site
When you’re writing for a new website, you’ll need to check out competitors and see what kind of content they publish, their layout, target demographic and the language they use. This is a starting point and can be constantly revised.
The benefits of writing for an existing site mean you’ll usually have analytics about who uses the site to help you adapt your style accordingly. This can be gathered from Google Analytics – so long as it is enabled – and will tell you things like your readers’ location, age, their browsing time, the device they use and their interests.
You will also need to perform an SEO content audit to analyse which pages are performing and which aren’t, identifying areas of your copy to brush up.
Refresh and revise
Once your content is published, don’t forget about it. Content needs to be monitored using analysis such as page views, shares and link clicks, to see how well it is performing.
If it is underperforming, tweak it, add or remove content, improve inbound links and check for broken links. You should also refresh landing page content regularly, not only to keep information current but to keep the search engines sweet!
Sources & further reading
Image credit: Typist, courtesy of GarrettTT