How to Write Copy for the Web
Writing for the web has a lot to do with making it easier for visitors to scan your webpage.
Writing copy for a blog post or a web page is generally very different from how many people usually write. It's less about the elegance of your sentences or the uniqueness of your vocabulary. Instead, what's crucial is how easily a visitor to your website can scan an article and determine if it's worth reading.
There is a significant difference between scanning a web page and reading it.
Many years ago, when people still went to bookstores, I spent countless hours flipping through the pages of books whose titles seemed intriguing. I randomly read sections to see if the content of the book matched its often grandiose title. Sometimes, it did, and I was hooked. However, often the title was the best part of the book — clickbait in today's words — and I quickly put it back on the shelf.
Move forward to today.
In our internet-dominated world, an overwhelming amount of content is now available online. You can find an answer by simply typing your question into a search engine like Google or Bing. Unfortunately, these search engines come back not with one response but with pages of links to websites, each with the potential to be the best answer to your question. But which link would it be? Since you will only find out after clicking the suggested links, you start with the most promising ones. They are usually on the first two pages.
Do you see the challenge?
You cannot possibly read the article behind every link. That would be too time-consuming. Like me, when I was flipping through the pages of a book in the pre-internet era to see if it was worth reading, today's internet users scan the content of a web page before committing their time to read it.
How do you scan a web page?
You only read the headings and the emphasized sections (like in bold or a different color). If these match your expectations, you might decide to read the entire article. Otherwise, just close the browser tab and open the next Google-suggested link.
Writing copy for the web is not that difficult if you follow a few principles. Remember, it's a lot about making it easier for visitors to scan your web page, which, in turn, increases your chances that they'll find your content interesting and decide to read the full text.
Tip 1: Structure Your Text
There is nothing wrong with writing a longer article to cover a topic in more depth. It can even set you apart from a lot of superficial content. But you have to structure your text.
Write in short sentences. Long intertwined sentences generally reduce the readability of your copy. Also, try to avoid run-on or fused sentences. You should split them.
Split your writing into logical steps. Develop a thought step by step and lead it to a conclusion. Avoid mixing different thoughts. Instead, cover adjacent topics in another article.
Write a heading for each logical step. Headings are a great tool to structure your thinking. I recommend writing headings that inform or summarize rather than being funny or catchy. Remember, search engines love headings. If they find specific keywords in them, they can rank your article higher in their search results. It's called search engine optimization (SEO).
Hierarchically structure your headings. The HTML code behind a web page allows you to structure your headings hierarchically. These header or heading tags, or h-tags for short, are semantic HTML elements that separate subsections of a longer text. Their number indicates their importance. h1-tags rank higher than h2-tags, and h2-tags higher than h3-tags, etc. The h1-tag, as the most important heading, is often used for the title on your web page. Although there are six different header tags (h1 to h6), you don't have to use all six.
Create a visual hierarchy. You can easily create a visual hierarchy depending on how you style the six header tags. For example, apply the largest font size for h1-tags and the smallest for h6-tags. A strong visual hierarchy increases the readability of your copy and makes it easier for visitors to understand the main points of your article.
Tip 2: Highlight Keywords
Every text has some keywords. Use a bold font or a different color to emphasize a crucial point in a longer paragraph. If you use this technique sparingly, visitors can already understand what your article covers by only reading the highlighted sections of your text.
Tip 3: Prominently Display Key Phrases or Quotes
Newspaper articles often display a key phrase or quote in the first third of an article, splitting the text. It's a great technique to pause a visitor scanning your web page for a brief moment and focus them on reading this key phrase or quote.
Tip 4: Break Up a Longer Text With Pictures
Images are a great way to break up lengthy text, especially when the content is a bit heavier. Visual cues can also help with conveying your main message. If your article is a tutorial, add computer screenshots to illustrate each step.
Tip 5: Add a Caption to Pictures
Adding a caption to a picture is different from filling out the image alt text field. The alt text field is meant to help screen-reading tools describe photos to visually impaired users. It also allows search engines to categorize these images, although they also use the metadata embedded in the image (EXIF).
A caption under a picture, on the other hand, should provide context, convey a recommendation, or create a specific mood. As captions are searchable, add keywords to your captions. Even if you later decide to hide the caption, it still can be searched.
These five techniques usually work together to make it easier for visitors to scan your copy, hopefully increasing your chances that they'll read the entire article.
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