How To Write For an Online Audience

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Whether it’s optimizing your website or writing content for a web page overhaul, putting finger to keyboard can be a daunting prospect. Even if you overcome writer’s block and manage to think of interesting topics, what’s to say that your content will be well received?

One of the most important lessons for any website owner or search engine marketer is learning how to write for an online audience. Most of us learn to write in a classroom environment and write articles, letters, reviews, and essays to be read from a sheet of paper. Reading a daily newspaper with breakfast, subscribing to a favorite magazine, or diving in to a good book can all influence our writing style. That means that for most of us, our impressions and ideas of how to write correctly are influenced by the offline word. This is a real handicap online as the online word is structured and styled very differently.

Content is arguably the most powerful weapon in any search marketer’s armor – we write adverts for pay per click, articles for link bait, and content for landing pages and websites in order to make sales. However, very often all of this content is not written with an online audience in mind. Just a few adjustments to style of prose and content format can take an uninspiring piece of writing and make it much more suited to purpose, increasing its chances of success in the virtual world.

1.  Sentence structure

Content written for online publication should differ greatly to the published word in terms of sentence structure. Offline, we can sit comfortably in a favorite armchair or snuggle up with a book, making long sentences easier to follow. Online, sentences should be short and punchy, designed for an audience sitting at a desk, staring at a screen, and scrolling on a mouse.

2.  Tone

Content can easily go awry if the tone of the piece is mistaken. Establishing the correct tone is easier offline where publications and the written word is more established. Online however, it can be difficult to strike a balance between chatty and professional. If you have an established brand and have spent money on an offline marketing campaign, setting the correct tone will be easy because you’ll already have a strong idea of your brand’s identity. If not, you must first let go of your traditional business writing practices and embrace a more informal medium. That’s not to say all online writing should be informal or unprofessional, but it must be easy to digest and resonate with the reader.

A good rule of thumb is to write as you would speak, set the piece aside, and then read back to yourself a day or so later. You can then make any needed changes, spruce up the style if need be and then publish.

3.  H1, H2, H3 and Bold

When we read a newspaper or magazine offline, cross-headers are used as anchor points in the text. These help to orienate the reader and pick out subject changes and important points. This same format should be applied to online content but is often overlooked. Consider a newspaper article — a large headline at the top of the piece gives an indication of the content of the piece. Small, bold text blocks mid-way through each column pick out highlights and changes of direction. Applying this same principle to online content is a great way of helping the reader scroll through and pick out the important sections. Reading large amounts of text on screen is off-putting to many, so the use of H2 and H3 tags to highlight bold sections of text creates pre-determined anchor points which the reader can use to scroll through the prose.

4.  Punctuation and Grammar

As with any written text, be it for offline purposes or online use, correct punctuation and grammar are invaluable. Spell checkers and grammar checks are included in most word processing packages free of charge, and there are lots of cheap books available to keep by the PC as a reference. The informality of the online medium means that we often write things in a rush – particular when updating a blog or making a social media post. Remember though, every post online is a reflection of your business, so even if you are posting a few short lines on a blog, take the time to double-check spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

Keep these four tips in mind and soon you’ll be writing online like a pro!

About the Author

Rebecca is the managing director of search engine optimization agency Dakota Digital a full-service agency offering SEO, online PR, web copywriting, media relationship management, and social media strategy. Rebecca works directly with each client to increase online visibility, brand profile, and search engine rankings. She has headed a number of international campaigns for large brands.

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