Writing Web Content: The Top 15 Rules for Better Copy

by in Articles on 27th Jan 2011 · Comments

Reading online is quite different from reading in print. For one, a screen causes concentration problems. Text can be difficult to focus on and flashing banners, bright images, and more can distract from the actual blog content. Another very common problem is the fact that anyone can write and publish on the web, many of whom are not well-versed in common grammatical rules. Nothing can cause readability problems more than poor sentence structure and grammatical errors.

Writing Web Content: The Top 15 Rules for Better Copy
Image credit: Brice Ambrosiak

Top 15 Rules for Better Web Copy

The Internet also provides access to millions of websites with more content than can be read in a lifetime. With so much information to take in, most people skim through to find pages that are the most appealing, and completely ignore pages that are too cumbersome to read.

Make sure that your pages and posts are as easy to read as possible by keeping them relatively free of typos and by following web writing techniques that the pros use.

1. Keep Paragraphs Short

Short Paragraph
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Rather than making posts or pages look like one huge intimidating wall of text, break the content into small chunks. Use short paragraphs and give each a headline, as if you are writing for brochures or other marketing booklets. The idea is the same as in marketing materials: make sure the headline gives your reader a clear idea of what is in the paragraph so that they can quickly find the information they need.

2. Left Justify Paragraphs

Novels and other similar reading materials indent the first line of every paragraph. This is done to separate each paragraph from each other since there are no line breaks in the text. Online, however, this type of formatting does not work. As mentioned before, walls of text will scare away readers. Therefore, left justify every line of text, do not indent the first line of every paragraph, and leave one space in between paragraphs.

3. Avoid Writing Empty Content

Empty
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Give your audience something interesting and informative to read. Filling a page with marketing fluff is unacceptable; visitors will take one look at your site and leave, never to return. Make content or posts helpful and relevant to problems that your audience may have. How-to articles, tips and tricks, and lists of resources will always draw readers and keep them coming back for more.

4. Welcome Responses

Response
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The Internet is made to be interactive. Make sure that your audience knows that you welcome their feedback by opening up comments to the public. Then take the time to respond back to every comment left on your site. If you are worried about spam, then use a spam filter plugin and approve comments before posting them.

5. Use Punctuation Sparingly

Unnecessary punctuation can make your sentences confusing and unappealing. Break up your sentences into smaller ones whenever you can. Extra commas (,) and semi-colons (;) make the page look complicated and may turn off your reader. Plus, you risk using them incorrectly, which can further annoy readers. Instead, transition well from sentence to sentence to create a natural flow. For instance, “Today’s digital world causes continual changes for businesses. These changes can create tension on budgets both large and small. This is why so many companies are turning to Brand Name for help.”

6. Use Relevant Images

Selecting Relevant Images
Image credit: Thomas Hawk

The right images can add to your content, making it richer and more appealing. Overusing images can confuse your audience, so choose only a few photos or graphics wisely. Add captions to make your images even more useful. Studies have shown that images are the first thing that draw the eye on brochures, posters, web content, and really any document that includes both text and images. Also include a caption that causes curiosity, and you will successfully convert many a surfer into a reader.

7. Include Hyperlinks

Sometimes an article needs a little outside enrichment. Use hyperlinks that encourage your readers to check out more information for themselves. These links can simply be other articles that you found helpful in your research of the information, or even links to affiliates’ sites.

Suggestion: Always make sure external links open in a new window so the reader can easily navigate back to your site.

8. Understand Your Audience

Understand
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Everyone will read content in a different way. If you are aware of your niche audience’s preferences, then you can customize your articles to suit them. For instance, some readers may enjoy the more laid back tone of “you” and contractions such as “they’re.” Others may like a more formal approach, so know your audience’s preferences before writing.

9. Correctly Use “Its” and “It’s”

Do not turn away readers by misusing something as simple as “its” and “it’s.” The word “its” is a possessive pronoun, which means that it is used to show that an object belongs to another object or animal. For instance, “The dog left its bone in the park.”

The word “It’s” is a contraction of the words “it” and “is”. An easy way to remember this is to make a mental note that the apostrophe (‘) shows where a letter was removed to push the two words together.

10. Do Not Mistake “Then” for “Than”

The word “then” is used to indicate an event that happened after another event (We shopped and then went to the park). Or the word “then” is used with the word “if” (If you write well, then readers will pay attention to what you have to say).

The word “than” works with the word “rather” (I would rather go with you than with him; rather than go to the park, I’d like to go to the movies).

11. Spell Check and Proofread

Proofread
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Your spell checker is definitely a must, but it can only pick up misspelled words. Manually look for mistakes the spell checker cannot detect. For instance, check for the proper use of “than” and “then,” “its and it’s,” and “their” “there” and “they’re.” Also, make sure that you only use one space after your periods to make for an easier transition between sentences.

12. Mind Your “There,” “They’re,” and “Their”

These three words can be a little confusing but rather annoying when misused. “There” indicates a place or is simply a non-descriptor pronoun (He works over there today; there is much work to be done).

They’re” is another contraction, as you may have guessed from the apostrophe. Any place that you would use the words “they” and “are,” you can also use “they’re” (They’re not enjoying this movie).

Their” shows plural possession. In other words, it shows that an object belongs to more than one animal or person. For instance, “They are ready for their prizes now.”

13. Write at a 3rd Grade Level

3rd Grade
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Any accomplished writer knows that when writing for a general audience, as opposed to an audience of experts, a 3rd grade level will ensure that almost anyone can understand what you are saying. Even your more intellectual readers will appreciate an easier level. Always explain acronyms at least once at the beginning of your article, except for those that are more widely known, such as FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation). Avoid large words and always explain terms that a general audience would not know.

14. Format Headlines Properly

Many bloggers are guilty of only capitalizing the first word in their headlines. Although it can be tempting to lazily write a headline as if it is a sentence (something that I have also been guilty of), take care to use capitalization rules for headlines and keep them as short as possible. Also, write every headline in an article the same way. For instance, in this article, I have begun each headline with an action word.

15. Use the Same “Voice”

One Voice
Image credit: Paige

A writing voice can be a difficult concept to understand. Basically, your voice is the way you write, or how your tone comes across in your writing. Some writers are sarcastic, some are formal, others have an uncanny knack for sounding exactly the way they talk. Some websites use more of a sales pitch voice, such as what you read in brochures or catalogs; others want to take a less obvious approach.

Whatever your voice is, stick with it. Do not try to be something you are not, and don’t change your tone from post to post. Readers will come to know your voice and may even look forward to it every time they visit your site.

Practice Makes Perfect

Your website content and blog posts are what will turn a browsing visitor into a loyal reader. You can never be too careful with your words, nor your assembly of those words. Therefore, always take plenty of time to edit and improve each article before publishing.

Tara Hornor has a degree in English and writes about marketing, advertising, branding, graphic design, and desktop publishing. She works for PrintPlace.com, an online printing company that offers brochures, posters, postcards, business cards, and more printed marketing media. In addition to her writing career, Tara also enjoys spending time with her husband and two children.