From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:
These days, pretty much all writers need to learn to write Web content. Yes, even if you’re a Victorian romance author whose readers care more about reticules and spatterdashers than retweets and SEO. Even if you don’t have your own blog. Any website needs content.
. . . .
Like it or not, all writers need to become “Web content providers” these days.
Yeah, I know. Sounds a lot less creative than “author” doesn’t it? And harder.
But it actually isn’t. Writing Web content is a little different from writing a traditional essay or magazine article, but it’s not hard. You just have to learn some basic guidelines.
Learning to Write Web Content Involves Unlearning
Especially what you were taught about paragraphing.
According to Mike Blankenship at Smart Blogger, the paragraph has gone through radical changes in the 21st century. He says the 100-200 word standard paragraph has disappeared. Now your average paragraph should be between two and four lines. You can go over and under — some paragraphs can be just one word long — but stay close to that average and you should be fine.
But don’t make them all the same length. Blankenship says, “Too many same-sized paragraphs in a row will bore your reader. It doesn’t matter if it’s too many small paragraphs or too many long paragraphs, the effect is similar.”
I had to unlearn a whole lot of what I was taught about writing prose back in the 20th century in order to be an effective Web content provider today.
. . . .
Back in the 20th century, good writers…
- Learned to use topic sentences and avoid cutting to a new paragraph until there’s a new topic.
- Wrote for people who paid money for a number of words and read every one.
- Wouldn’t put a title on a serious essay that looked like a cheap tabloid headline.
- Avoided repetition.
- Would never offer an outline instead of an essay.
- Substantiated information with footnotes.
- Never heard of tags, keywords, or SEO.
But the majority of people don’t read on the Internet; they skim. In fact, most people don’t even skim the whole article. Farhad Manjoo famously reported that only half the people who visit a website read past the first hundred words.
So how do you get them to come by…and stick around?
Forget all of the above and learn some new tricks:
1) Write Intriguing Titles
This is probably the most important aspect of learning to write Web content.
Mystery author C. Hope Clark once said in her “Funds for Writers” newsletter: “You might be surprised at the key factor I use in deleting or holding to read: The quality of the subject line. Hey, when time is crazy limited…the words have to snag me as I rush by. That means first and foremost that the subject be crisp, sharp, attractive, intriguing, or whatever adjective you want to use that gives me whiplash. It has to shout, “HEY, READ ME OR YOU’LL REGRET IT.”
Headers are the most important element of a blog’s content, and it’s the one most novelists don’t get. We want our blogs and newsletters to sound creative and literary like our books, not cheesy like a supermarket tabloid. But tabloid journalists are good at what they do. They have only a moment to grab a reader going through that checkout line, so they need an irresistible hook.
In our case, headers need to snag a reader in the endless stream of content Web browsers can choose from.
So how do we do that?
Here are 8 ways you can grab a Web reader’s attention with your story about, say, a writer who suspects her bathroom is haunted.
- Stir emotions: “The Tragic Ghost that Haunts my Bathroom.”
- Offer useful advice: “How to Make Sure a Building isn’t Haunted before you Sign that Rental Agreement.”
- You can sensationalize: “Why This Woman is Afraid of her own Bathroom!”
- Or appeal to sentiment: “This Story of a Cat and a Flapper’s Ghost Will Melt Your Heart.”
- Maybe stir up some greed: “How Wendy Writer inked a 7- Figure Deal with her Haunted Bathroom Story.”
- Paranoia is good: “Is Your Bathroom Haunted?” Or “Who or WHAT is Flushing Your Toilet in the Middle of the Night?”
- Curiosity, too: “10 Things You Don’t Know about Poltergeists.”
- Or you can appeal to thriftiness: “Save Money and Time with a Do-It-Yourself Exorcism.”
. . . .
2) Promise a Fast Read
Everybody’s in a hurry online.
Author Jillian Mullin wrote in the Web Writer Spotlight: “Generally, an average Web user only spends 10 to 30 seconds reading Internet content. People rarely read web pages word-per-word. Instead, they scan the page for related keywords, bullet points, subtitles, and quotes.”
That’s why one of the best ways to let people know you’ve got a quick, easy-scan piece is with a numbered “listicle” like “The Top 10 Best Ghostwritten Books” or “5 Signs Your Computer is Possessed.”
The other thing is to learn to harness the power of white space. A page with lots of white space can be taken in at a glance.
Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris