Writing for the Web

The internet is a busy place. Counting Wordpress blogs alone, over 2 million new blog posts are published every single day. That is over 1,500 per minute!

Perhaps it is partially due to this non-stop torrent of information that people read differently online. Since 1997, user experience research has shown that the vast majority of people merely skim, while only 16% actually read a page’s full contents.

So how do you make your voice heard in a textual hurricane amongst people who aren’t really listening?

Speak with concise, compelling, carefully-chosen words. (Keep it brief!)

People on the web are impatient and don’t easily trust. They won’t wait for you to make your point, so it is very important to carefully craft what you say.

Unless you are developing a reference article that is meant to stand the test of time, be ruthless with yourself in your choice of words. If it isn’t essential, drop it.

Brevity is important, especially for marketing messages. Your first contact with a reader is about relating in a compelling way. Once you have compelled someone to connect with you, you have an open door to further interaction and education.

Structure your content with headings to help your skimmers find what they need.

Whether you are writing a short post or a long exposé, headings will help your readers to stay engaged.

Skim-readers might give your post a quick scroll to judge if it is worth reading. Without headings, your post will look like an unfriendly wall of text, and they will quickly move on to another website.

Give some thought to your headings. Try to deliver your main point in the heading itself so that if all your visitors have bothered to read are your headings, they will come away at least with an idea of the flow of your argument. By delivering your point upfront, your readers will receive the most essential or most compelling message right away, and then may read on if you have piqued their interest.

Write with a specific person in mind.

It is worth spending some time to determine who your intended audience is. Who are you trying to reach? What are their questions and challenges? How might you become a resource for them?

Do a quick ‘persona’ sketch: If your target is a business manager who leads multiple teams of field workers, jot down some details about this person to act as a ‘relevancy guide’ as you prepare your material. “Does this point matter to this person? Does it have any bearing on this person’s ‘pain points’?”

Consider your reader’s cognitive load.

Perhaps you write your posts in a quiet office setting, in optimized lighting, and with minimal distractions. But in all likelihood, this is not the case for your readers. They might be dealing with loud music or disruptive conversation, crying children or a cat walking across the keyboard. Maybe your reader has some form of visual or auditory impairment, or is viewing the screen through a jungle of post-it notes.

Whatever the case, when we write for the web, we must be mindful of potential distractions and barriers so that people can easily receive what we want to deliver.

In the time it took me to write this post, there are now an additional 90,000 blog posts in the world. Thanks for reading this one!