Writing for the Internet

A while ago I wrote an article on the reasons why more business people are needing written content these days but it wasn’t used at the time.   I’d obviously prefer you to hire Allan Jackson Communications if you need something written for your business but I have outlined some things to look out for if you’re determined to go it alone:

Writing for publication was usually left to professionals in the days before the web became so much a part of our lives.

There weren’t, in fact, that many chances to be published. Most marketing was done in the form of advertising in the media including magazines and newspapers. Some businesses ran PR campaigns to get free publicity but that was usually outsourced. This was because creating content to publicise a business while still being acceptable to the news publications was a pretty skilled occupation.

Business people had little need to write to support their marketing efforts. The situation was turned on its head, however, when Internet marketing took off and everyone became publishers.

Businesses wanted to be found when the public used a search engine to look for products and services. The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker suddenly needed content, fired up MS Word and started to churn out words.

Then a new problem arose when the search engines began to change the way they ranked sites. At first they had given priority to sites which had good keywords in their HTML code so the text content of the site was often overlooked.

Over time things changed and search engines now prefer sites which are regularly updated with fresh content. Google and others don’t like it if sites and profiles are static for more than a few weeks.

Businesses wanting to feature high in search rankings now have to post fresh engaging content and thus the need to create more of it has become urgent. Unfortunately, some of the new writers aren’t good on spelling and grammar. Even more don’t have the skills to put their messages across in an effective way.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that everyone can improve by learning tricks of the trade including writing for Internet audiences.

Some things to bear in mind

Spelling & grammar

Would you buy from someone who can’t spell? If I see mistakes I always wonder what else the writer doesn’t know. Hint: Check and recheck what you’ve written. If possible get someone else to check it as well. Then check it again. Use the spellchecker.

Too many words

People don’t have much time and they won’t waste it wading through a mass of words. Hint: Use as few words as possible to get your point across. No big blocks of text.

Buried messages

People often don’t read beyond the first few paragraphs of any text. Hint: Cut the waffle and put the most important facts first.

Too complex

Newbie writers often forget they are not writing for themselves. They can understand the jargon and buzzwords they use but others might not. Google wants to serve its users with the most useful search results and prefers sites they will find easy to understand. Hint: The goal is to write so that someone with a couple of years of high school can read and understand the text. Use short sentences and short words where possible.

Incomplete information

Writing for business should contain all the facts that a reader might want to know. Hint: Use the 5Ws to check all necessary facts are included. To write about an event, for example, you’ll need to say What’s going to happen, When it’s going happen, Where it’s going to happen, Who’s involved and Why it’s going to happen. How much it’s going to cost is also useful.

Call to action

People like to be told what to do next and will leave your website or throw your flyer away if you don’t. You need to tell them what to do every time you communicate with them.

Hint: You should have a call to action prominently displayed in all your communications. Examples include ‘Buy now’, ‘Download free’, ‘Shop now’, ‘Contact us now’ and ‘Subscribe now’. Make online calls to action into clickable buttons so readers can easily do what you want.

It’s not about you

The public don’t care about your business. They won’t engage with your experience, your friendly smiling service, your list of services or the features and benefits of a product. They will need some of that detail in time but you need to hook their interest first.

Hint: The thing people care most about is solving problems that cause them pain. These are known as pain points and the trick is to state the pain point upfront and then say how it can solved. One example might be ‘Afraid of reaching retirement without enough money? Our savings app is the solution because…’.

There is a fair bit to writing effectively for business as you can see. However, you’ll be well ahead of the pack if you write simply so that everyone can understand what you’re on about. You get a bonus gold star if you’ve kept it short as possible, put the important stuff first, included all the facts and eliminated the typos.

P.S. For your interest, the text in this post was analysed and is suitable for a reading age of 12-14 years old (Grade 7-8). Most people in the population can read it but it doesn’t talk down to more advanced readers. They’ll just be pleased it was such a quick read and that they could go on to other things sooner.


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