Want to write better web copy? Over on the Whiteoaks blog, Abigail Harrison has posted a list of tips for writing online copy. It was timely, as I’ve got back to some fairly heavy-duty blogging recently, just as Google retire Google Reader. The post inspired me to add a some additional suggestions to 3 of Abigail’s points:

Whose words are these?

2. Remember how you use Google to search for ‘stuff’: people do not search for adjectives / adverbs, they search for products, brands and product types.

The key here is use the language of your reader, not your own. Technology companies can be particularly bad at this, posting in company or product-specific terms that no-one is likely to search for, or that (in the worst cases) are completely unintelligible to potential customers. How do your reader’s talk about your topic? Do you need to explain some of your terms?

While I agree with the point about adjectives, my observation is that people search for problem/solution terms more frequently than they search for product names, unless they are a long way down the buying cycle.

How do you search?

Think about how you use Google yourself, and note what kind of language you use when you search. As an example, the most used search phrases related to “iPhone screen” are “iphone repair” and “iphone display”, which have  about the same monthly search volume as the phrase “how to repair an iphone.” By comparison, the phrase “iphone cracked screen repair” has only a tiny percentage of that volume. Have a play with the Google Keyword Tool.

3. Google does not understand inference, allegory, clever headlines or abstract content

solobassteve

It certainly doesn’t. But it does make assumptions based on what you link to and what links to you. Make use of relevant links in your posts, and write for humans first, search engines second. Having a precisely keyworded title is no good if no-one clicks on the post to read it.

How do you read?

Google measures which search results are clicked through to, so winning people’s interest and attention is key, especially in the age of social. While we are on the topic of Google, don’t forget that it isn’t the only player in search engine land, Microsoft now has a 16% share of the search space.

10. Try to summarise with a fact / top tips box-out copy

Writing for the web isn’t the same as writing a book or an email. People scan web pages, rather than reading them. Have visual anchors in your pages. Do you see how that worked? Bold text, call outs and images all provide places for readers’ eyes to rest, and potential entry points to your writing. Try the following techniques:

  • Strong summary at the start.  Clear conclusion at the end.
  • Highlight keywords or phrases - links are highlights too.
  • Get a good site design with sensible colours, fonts and spacing.
  • Add sub-headings that are meaningful to new readers.
  • Include lists – oh how we love lists.
  • One idea per paragraph – make it easy to skip and restart reading, and create more entry points.
  • Be terse – less is more when you only have seconds.

Practice

Short and to the point – something I’m still working on! It’s an art, not a science. There’s only one real way to find out what works for you and your audience: Practice – Read lots. Write lots.

Get out there and write something – that might even be a comment here!