How to write for the online reader

How to write online
A laptop (Source: Unsplash)

In this article I would like to talk about how people usually read online and how it will affect your writing.

  • People seldom read for pleasure on the Internet. Most of the time they look for particular information or research on a subject.

Use headlines to give a precise idea about the content you offer. Do not write headlines in obscure style, hoping that the reader will be intrigued by it. Most of the time, if users see no direct relevance to their search in the headline, they hit the “back” button.

  • People tend to scan rather than read, which means that they read less attentively. They also sometimes skip sections of text.

Use subheading as signposts to help your readers find better orientation in your content. Structure your text clearly: include one idea per paragraph and start your paragraph with this key idea. Use bulleted or numbered lists, where appropriate. Make sure to adjust the anchor text of your links: “learn more about our program” instead of “click here”.  Use images that support the main idea of your text and do not forget about captions, as well as <alt> and <title> tags.

  • Users generally prefer informal, easy-to-read texts

Write in shorter sentences and paragraphs. Use active voice instead of passive constructions. Apply personal pronouns instead of naming yourself or the user (“we” instead of “our company”, “you” instead of “the reader”).

  • Readers respect authoritative sources and look for supportive data

Do not hesitate to quote other sites in your content, as long as they have authority and credibility. Also, avoid exaggerated language and try to convince readers based on facts about your products or services. Include any important details or technical data, but place them in separate sections on your website, not on the main page. If you link to documents for download, mention the format and the size of the file.

  • Users expect up-to-date content

Set up “an expiry date” for every piece of content you produce, either in your CMS system  or in your editorial calendar. Some articles will have longer “life” than others (food recipes vs live-ticker of a football match).  Make sure to review and update the articles regularly. Also, periodically curate and improve the existing content, especially on pages with higher bounce rates. 

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Don’t Dive Off the Shallow End: 7 Rules for Web Content Creation

7 rules to help making content creation within an organisation easier. Includes content framework and other advice.

Content Marketing is one of the biggest trends now. However, as with many fast-developing Internet trends (SEO or Social Media in the past), there is an urge to do something but little understanding of how it has to be done.

7 Rules for Web Content Creation

 

In this article I want to share 7 basic time-saving rules for crafting Web content.

1. Have a concept

Consider creating a content framework where you define your cornerstones:

  • Who are the readers of the content? What motivates them?
  • At what stage of the buying process are the readers?  How high is their level of awareness of the subject on which you are writing ?
  • What do you want to achieve by creating the content? Look at this from several angles: the customer (information needs), the company (e.g. customer retention), and additional benefits (e.g. SEO).
  • How would that content fit in the overall company strategy and the current marketing campaign?
  • Which format is the most appropriate? Do not just think in terms of blog posts: white papers, infographics, press releases, tweets, online tests, presentations — these are all valid and working formats of online content.

2. Have a plan

If you are writing within an organization, treat your content creation process like any other project. Define the roles, the responsibilities and the deadlines. Think about the stages the project will go through (briefing, planning, first draft, correction, second draft, etc), and how different roles are involved at each stage. Do not forget about the documentation of the process: either use a project management tool you have, or place your project schedule on a shared resource, Intranet or cloud-based.

3. Have a structure

This might remind you of the school times, but do create a detailed plan of what you want to write about. If there is limited space (e.g. on an infographic), note down the required length of text blocks.

If you are writing a white paper or a blog article, decide in how many smaller parts you will divide it and how to structure them. Generally, consistency is the keyword. The paragraph headings should be of the same format and the text parts of the same length.

Do not forget about the main idea that holds all of your text bits together and contributes to the strength of your argument. And even though users online are said to read diagonally, introduction and conclusion (or summary) are still the important parts of any text.

4. Be brief

“People online do not read”. It is, of course, an exaggeration, but keep it in mind when starting a writing task. What does it imply?

  • Add visuals and make your content as appealing as possible (use colors and highlighters where appropriate, but do not overdo).
  • Make sure your paragraphs and sentences are short and easily digestible. Use bullet lists to present a series of arguments.
  • Use paragraph headings as pivot points to keep the user reading by arousing his or her interest in what comes next.
  • Within your text, avoid unnecessary padding such as filler phrases and redundancies. In short, if you can say the same thing with fewer words, go for it.

5. Be precise

Because of the usual practice of skimming through Web pages, the information is often misinterpreted or badly understood. Highlight the most important points through moderate repetition and rewording. You may use the writing formula: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell it to them, and then tell them what you have just told them” for delivering your main message. Having a consistent structure and writing correctly will also help to improve the preciseness of your expression.

6. Be correct

Even though the Internet seems to accept rather causal style, your text has to be correct. Ask other project participants to proofread your text, and work with credible sources to polish your writing and achieve grammatical and stylistic correctness. I use the Associated Press Stylebook, but there are other style guides, as well as dictionaries, grammar checking software and content creation tools you can use. Be aware that the norms in the US and UK English are different, so choose one language variant and stick to it.

7. Be true

Apart from grammar, factual correctness is important. Even when producing marketing texts, observe the boundary between promoting a product and misinforming your readers.

  • Research. Have you done thorough research on the topic? Research may include field tests, talks to product experts or to the customers, or information from special literature or industry press.
  • Citations. Are the sources you quote trustworthy? Is the information you use still up-to-date?
  • Details. Does your text cover the topic well or does it leave a lot of open questions? Can the reader follow your line of argument without interruption?

In conclusion, there is no magic wand for creating marvelous content within minutes. Writing a good text takes a lot of time and (collaborative) effort. But having a plan and working through it consistently will make content creation easier and accelerate your learning curve.

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Essential Criteria for CMS Selection

Essential features of a good content management system (CMS) were discussed during CMS night in Nuremberg. Both web developers and editors should be considered.

Content management systems (CMS) are applications used to build websites and manage website content and layout centrally, also if there is a larger number of publishers and editors involved. Currently, there are hundreds of proprietary and open source CMS, based on several programming languages (though at the moment PHP-based CMS are leading).

Last Monday, Co-Working Space Nuremberg hosted a workshop dedicated to some well-known and also relatively new CMS (Joomla!, TYPO3, WordPress, as well as Contao and Refinery). The participants represented a mixture of web developers and CMS-users, such as online marketing agencies.

Several features essential for CMS systems were discussed:

  • Usability features for web developers or web designers:
    • individually expandable functionality of CMS, existence of a range of extensions: plug-ins, widgets, templates, templates…
    • possibility to connect several domains in one CMS with a single log-in
    • possibility for integration of several CMS within a structure of a single website
    • flexibility and programming-friendliness of a system in order to create customized designs
    • flexibility in creating customized or streamlined back-end interface
    • support and forums for web developers
    • suitability for complex websites with hundreds of pages
  • Usability for editors and publishers (users)
    • suitability of CMS for a variety of web functions (e.g. an online shop)
    • open source availability of the CMS and the extensions
    • traceability of the staging process and the workflow
    • time-delayed publication
    • possibility of editing content in the frontend
    • preview features
    • a developed user support system: “help” functions, documentation as well as forums and “community”
    • multilingual possibilities of a CMS
    • simple and clear depiction of the website structure in the backend
    • simplicity in use, also for people without programming background

All in all, the choice of CMS depends both on the website purpose and the resources available. New CMS are constantly being developed (e.g. Refinery CMS was programmed with Ruby on Rails, and the first version was released in 2011).

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