Saturday, September 09, 2006

Writing for the Web

Have you ever tried to read your local newspaper online? How about the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal? It just isn't the same. Do you know why? Because articles meant for print don't translate well to the web, and the rules that apply to writing content for the internet are different than those for print. What constitutes quality content offline does not necessarily constitute quality content online.

How the web is different:

Text is hard to read
Typical computer monitors have a resolution of 96 dpi (dots per inch). Compare that with a printout from a laser printer that has a resolution of 600 dpi, or a magazine page that can be upwards of 2400 dpi, and it's not hard to figure out why the text on a computer places a strain on the eyes. According to the book Hot Text, Web Writing That Works, by Jonathan and Lisa Price, "because text is more difficult to read on-screen, people often read slower, comprehend less, recall less, and do less in response."

Words can be linked to other pages and sources
The closest thing you're going to get to a link in a newspaper is when a story is split into two sections and you're told the story is continued on page 9. But when it comes to the web, words and images can be linked to other web pages, photos, videos, sounds, and a myriad of other things. Being able to link is the primary tool that web writers can take advantage of that print writers don't have at their disposal.

How you should write:

Write less
Because of the strain placed on readers when reading on a computer screen, you can't expect them to read a 5,000 word article. Research has shown that most readers tend to scan an article before reading. Articles longer than 1,000 words will likely turn off your audience and result in few people reading your article (and therefore fewer visitors coming back to your site in the future). You should condense your writing to include only the most crucial points and eliminate everything else. Writing successfully for the web forces you to present only the necessary content and leave the rest out.

Utilize headings and lists
Since people tend to scan web articles as opposed to reading them from the first word to the final word, you should make it easy for them to find what they're looking for by using headings, bold type, and lists. A great way to turn a print article into a readable web article is to transform it into a top 10 list. Lists make it easy for readers to scan and read only what they are interested in.

Use plenty of links and make them obvious
Since linking is the primary advantage of a web writer, it should be used early and often. Linking allows you to provide the reader with a roadmap of information. With your article as a starting point, your reader should be able to find more information about any and all topics discussed in the article. Common things to link to include reference pages, news sources, audio and video, forums, and applications that will enhance the reading experience. The best thing about links is that the user can choose which ones to follow and which ones to ignore. That allows you to reference something without citing the entire thing as you would have to in a print article.

One of the most important things to remember when linking is to make it visually obvious that a section of text is a link. Five years ago it was common place to use the standard blue underlined text for linking, but as the web has evolved, most designers have abandoned that style for better looking links. Site designers can still make links obvious by consistently using a different color than standard text and by providing a hover effect, such as underlining the link and changing it's color, when users place their cursor over the link. This subconsciously tells them that the text is a link.

Write with the search engines in mind
Since much of the content on the web is found via search, it makes sense to write with the search engines in mind. No, this doesn't mean that you should stuff your articles with keywords to the point where they are barely readable. But it does mean that you should write titles and headings that actually convey what your article discusses. For example, this article could be called "Content Evolution" or "Digital Distribution." If it were a magazine article, those titles or other titles might have been more appealing, but they don't capture the essence of the article, which is "Writing for the Web." If someone were to search for an article on writing online, they'd likely use a phrase like "how to write for the web" or "writing practices for the web" which would turn up this article, but probably wouldn't turn up an article with one of those other titles.


How to effectively select and use keywords for your website

Correctly choosing the keywords that your website wishes to compete on is the single most important aspect of a search engine optimization campaign. Proper keyword selection can provide your business with an extremely solid foundation to build.

However, the opposite can be said for websites that make mistakes at this point. If your website dives straight into a competitive keyword selection there is a good chance of drowning in the oblivion of search engine results. Choosing keywords for your website requires a fine balance of research and modesty.

Be Specific
If there is a particular item or product range that your company sells then make sure your keyword selection reflects this. Being vague results in higher levels of competition. If your website sells golf clubs then optimize your pages to match what kind of golf clubs you are offering. Do they have graphite shafts? Do you sell a left-handed selection? What kind of brand are they?

Regionalise your selection if appropriate
Focusing on a regionalised market will result in a much more targeted market and the competition will also lower significantly. If you only sell your products and services within Ireland make sure you contain specific phrases (e.g. Ireland, Irish, Dublin, etc.) within your Title, body and anchor text.

Domain Name Selection
For many new (and existing companies) the ideal website name might already be taken. Or, for branding purposes, the choice of a keyword rich domain name may not be applicable. This shouldn't be a major concern to companies as the weight search engines give to the URL of a website is of limited importance when it comes to ranking well within the results pages. However, if your website contains keywords that your company wishes to compete on then you should exploit this when choosing your inbound linking text (a.k.a. anchor text).

Anchor Text
Inbound links from websites can provide your site with a two-fold benefit. The first (and obvious) is that these links can help your company by sending potential customers to your website. The second benefit is that Google and the other major search engines will see these links as votes of confidence therefore giving your website a boost in its rankings. When developing inbound links it is important to take advantage of keywords that your site might be targeting.

For example, my website is It contains a number of articles that can help webmasters and companies promote their websites. With this in mind, a link that contains the anchor text Website Promotion Articles will help both visitors and search engines to understand what this website is all about. By developing links with keyword rich anchor text your website can rank higher in the search engine results for the terms that you are competing on.

Landing Pages
When choosing keywords you feel are suitable to target your desired market you may end up with a list the length of your arm. If you create a website with a logical structure containing a number of pages that deal with the range or products your company offers you will be able to professionally and effectively optimize your entire site for all of your selected keywords.

For example, if your company sells office supplies and office stationary (both extremely competitive keyword phrases) you could still drive a large amount of traffic to landing pages that sell "Executive Leather Chairs" and "Printer Ribbons". This is only an example, creating and optimizing landing pages is a technique that all websites could and should do regardless of what they are offering.

Remember, your optimization efforts should never stop after your home page is completed. Your entire site should be professionally optimized for maximum results.