On Writing for the Web

This is a guest post by Andrew Rondeau of We Build Your Blog.

When I was at school, I was told a number of rules on the etiquette of good writing. It now transpires that most of the things we have ever been taught about effective writing don’t actually apply to writing for the web, and updating our blogs.

It can be confusing knowing the best way to write to engage your readers. Do we opt for humour, to try and pull people in? Or will that alienate potential customers, making them think that we are not serious business practitioners? An example of this is the following, which I briefly considered – and discounted – before starting to write this blog post:

“If your writing has ever been described as looking like a spider has crawled across the page, then you’re probably an ideal candidate for producing web articles.”

See, it’s tough, right? That was lame. And yet, most of us default to some kind of cheesy tone when trying to write blog entries. To get over this hurdle and a few others, let’s look at the basic principles of effective writing for the web.

Keep it Short

It’s a given that readers these days are looking for the information they want, quickly.

People who surf the net are accustomed to getting facts quickly, and most readers only spend two or three minutes on any particular web page. This means we have to say what we need to say, quickly. Be concise and punchy, to retain your readership.

Avoid Jargon

Regardless of the subject of your blog, whether you’re writing a hardcore tecchie journal or a guide to beekeeping, you need to steer clear of abbreviations and overly technical language.

You have nothing to prove on your blog, so don’t try to blind your readers with industry-specific language – you’ll probably end up alienating them.

Use Humour

OK, maybe not like the example above, but humour helps to engage your readers and keep them entertained while they absorb the information you are offering them. Light-hearted comments can make your writing much more interesting, meaning your readers will probably bookmark you and come back again.

If people want to read serious subjects, they’ll stick to the BBC news site!

Be Personal – But Not Too Personal

There’s a fine line between giving your readers enough information about yourself to let them feel as if they have rapport, and telling them your inside leg measurement.

Divulge just enough about yourself so that your readers can identify with you, but not so much that they could turn up at your parents and make out that they are a long-lost friend of yours.

Link and Refer

Remember to add links to any sources you are referencing, and substantiate any claims you make. It’s simple to send people on to other sites when they’ve read a subject in your blog.

Plus add some internal links to your other blog posts. An advantage of this is that you enhance your Search Engine Optimisation, increasing potential traffic to your site.

Use Open Questions

There is no better way to engage your audience and elicit feedback than asking open questions. You can find out what people feel about your post, ask for alternative opinions, or even ask questions in the hope of finding out more information about what you are writing.

Comments are one of the most positive elements of your blog, so keep them coming.

What do you think of this? Have I left anything out? Let me know!

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Comments

  1. says

    Very nice post Andrew!

    I love to keep it short, this is something I have learned from working in media and news sites, people really need the information and they don’t care so much about details unless it’s important to them to go deeper!

    Sometimes I write simple tutorials and I end up with a huge post, this is where I can not make it shorter ;)

    Thank you for the good read!
    .-= New from Hesham @ How to Blog 5 Important Things Why Bloggers Must Buy Online Products =-.

  2. says

    I like to see blog entries with a max of 350-400 words with bolded text so I can skim the article easily. If I like what I see, then I can read the article from start to finish. Too often, blog article are books that can easily have been blog article for several other entries.
    .-= New from Colleen@Kennewick Real Estate Tri Cities Has Lowest Cost of Living in the State =-.

  3. says

    Andrew,

    This is definitely one of the best advice pieces I’ve seen of yours.

    On keeping it short –
    When I first started blogging, I had a tendency to write incredibly long-winded posts. Most people think that the best writers can write A LOT all at once. I have found the contrary to be true. The best writers can write short, concise text – they can share meaning by using as little words as possible. This concept is most applicable to the web because, as you touched on, the typical reader attention span is much smaller than for a newspaper or magazine.

    On humor –
    While search engines don’t appreciate good humor (and therefore don’t rank you better for using it), I like to use good humor to reel in search engine visitors as permanent subscribers or loyal readers.

    On being personal but not too personal –
    I couldn’t have said it any better myself. I can’t tell you how many time I have unsubscribed from a blog because I was tired of reading about the bloggers personal life. Bloggers should have their own personal blog for personal content (that’s at least what I do). Of course it is an excellent practice to integrate personal experiences with your blog posts but the experiences should always serve a purpose — that is, they should be used metaphorically to explain or emphasize a point.

    On Link and Refer –
    A lot of bloggers are afraid to link to external pages because they have a fear of losing PR juice. The idea is ridiculous of course because Google only uses external links to judge what the content of the page is. There is no “penalty” for linking to too many pages; there is only the possibility that you link to an irrelevant page which will throw Google of for ranking your page.

    On using open question –
    This is something I haven’t delved into too much. I have sort of resorted to a common sense notion that people will comment only if they feel compelled to, regardless of any nudges from the post author. I could be wrong of course.

    Thanks for the informative post! There are a lot of blog tip people spreading a lot of silly, wrongheaded ideas about Internet marketing. Neither you or most of the guest posters on Kikolani are among them. The other day I spent about a half hour writing a comment in response to a blog post on Google PR (the blog was in the blog tip niche). The author basically said that PR increases your search rankings … I tried to explain to him that Google PR does not cause better search engine rankings but is only correlated with better search engine results… the bastard deleted my comment.

    p.s. let me know if you want to do a blogroll link exchange
    .-= New from Chris@wordpress gravatars Response cached until Thu 6 @ 23:24 GMT (Refreshes in 23.52 Hours) =-.

    • says

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for those kind words – “This is definitely one of the best advice pieces I’ve seen of yours. ”

      I’ve had quite a few comments deleted as well – especially when you say something against the blog post or you add a great piece of advice. It’s almost as if the blog owner doesn’t want to be seen as some-sort of failure…but it is only one opinion!

      I tend to add questions at the end of my blog posts because it can trigger something in the reader to write a comment – well I think so, anyway!

      Will think about blog roll request and write to you.

      Thanks again for a great comment.

      Andrew
      .-= New from Andrew @ Blogging Guide Win The Latest 8G iPod Nano: Enter The Simple IncomeBloggingGuide.com Contest =-.

  4. says

    I agree on all counts except the keep it short… I used to subscribe to that belief, but nowadays I’ve changed my view to “know your audience” and write what appeals to them. Some blogs do awesomely well with longer posts… others do better with shorter. I think it depends on your niche, your readers, and to some extent… what you train them to expect from you! :)

    Great post Andrew!

    C

  5. says

    I also like to keep blog post short and explain everything within a short article. I think people do not like to read long article, as internet browser are so busy. Well making the blog dofollow is good for people engage in comment conversation.
    .-= New from chandan@work at home blog Search freelancing work at home jobs =-.

  6. says

    Great tips. I really agree with the point about writing in short and avoiding those long and unwanted paragraphs.

    Some people and webmasters still believe that posting very long text paragraphs on blogs could attract more readers and web visitors which could be wrong. As you have accurately pointed out, writing to the point and having some clear aims while generating contents are the keys in here.

  7. says

    In my eyes, as bloggers, we should take blog’s readers into consideration. That is to say, we should write the articles that our readers really like to read and share. For example, if the post is too long, many readers may feel annoyed sometimes, so, to keep it short is a good way to attract more visitors to have interest in reading our posts here.
    .-= New from Duia 3 Tips for Running a Successful Online Marketing Strategy =-.

  8. says

    Hey Andrew! Great writing. I think you’re probably suited for both print and the web. ;-)

    I find it amazing to discover the amount of content that can be consumed in 2 to 3 minutes. So even if people stay for a minute and a half, as long as your layout is appropriate for scanning (using headings, like you have), you can pack in a decent amount of content.

    I prefer longer posts and have noticed that my readership does not seem to mind. Like you said in one of your replies to a comment here, long posts are good so long as they are full of good information.

    They are also great for the long-tail keyword SEO…
    .-= New from Tia – BizChickBlogs.com Blogger Qs Answered: Should Guest Posting Be Reciprocated? =-.

  9. says

    I think we should all write for the internet in the same fashion that we write in any other media. What troubles me is this transition that seems to be occurring where writers are lazy with their grammar and punctuation. It seems that people are taking the easy and lazy approach to their online writing and writing their blogs and posts as if they were writing a text to their friend over their cell phone. If this text writing format continues, there will be less and less proper punctuation and grammar online and our English language will begin to deteriorate into something that is currently unrecognizable. Let’s hope our education system will keep pace with this disturbing trend.
    .-= New from Dan McDougall@pitcherwaterfiltration Which Is The Best Water Filtration System? =-.

  10. says

    Yeah, it is really hard to find the right quality of article. I have various sites and I need tons of content to keep them updated so I sometimes take lower quality just to keep it all fresh. But you are right we should write for the readers and not for the search engines.

    Very important point is linking out to authority sites in your niche. It makes you an authority hub over time.

    I am never sure how effective internal linking is. Sometimes I have the idea that it makes a difference sometimes I don’t. I mainly do the internal linking for the reader so he can find related content instead of doing it for the link juice.

    Thanks for the article Andrew!
    .-= New from Alex@Zahnaufheller Braun Oral-B Sonic Complete DLX – Testbericht =-.

  11. says

    I find that my limitation of English actually makes my posts simple (although words can get repetitive after a while) and my readers said they like reading them.

    In terms of shortness, I think it depends. People who want to buy products mostly want to read longer reviews to convince them before buying and others, as u said, short ones
    .-= New from Michael Aulia @CravingTech.com Creative ZiiSound D5 Review =-.

    • says

      Michael,

      That limitation of English you have turns out to be a good thing if it makes your posts simpler.

      English was my worst subject school (I was into Maths/sciences) and when I started to work in the corporate world, I thought it would hold me back.

      Then one day one corporate board member said to me, he love the simple way I explained things – in simple English everyone could understand. From that day, I never worried about my own English limitations again.

      Re: reviews / sales pages. That’s another story, re: long vs. short and could create even more disagreements!

      Andrew
      .-= New from Andrew @ Blogging Guide Win The Latest 8G iPod Nano: Enter The Simple IncomeBloggingGuide.com Contest =-.

  12. says

    The thing you have to remember is that no matter what you do you will never please everyone. Whatever style you choose it has to come natural to you otherwise it won’t come out right. It’s best to talk about subjects you are interested in as these will flow a lot more easily and will attract more readers than ones that you have to force to come out.
    .-= New from Sire Scientific Revelation Explaining Why Some A Listers Are Assholes =-.

    • says

      “The thing you have to remember is that no matter what you do you will never please everyone.”

      Something we should remind ourselves every now and then, Sire.

      Most people, not just bloggers, want to try and please everyone and take it personally when they don’t.

      Andrew
      .-= New from Andrew @ Blogging Guide 5 Basic WordPress SEO Tips: Everyone Should Follow =-.

  13. says

    Thanks Andrew – great advice. I’m also a fan of breaking up the text into sub-headings. It keeps it user-friendly and handy for ‘super fast’ skimming. Also, as I have a tendency to get lost into ‘the zone’ when writing – I can end up with superfluous information. I solve this by either turning the piece into a 2 or 3 part post series or ruthlessly editing to create a completely new 2nd post. That way, all the time writing is not wasted and you have extra content! Kym :)
    .-= New from Kym Income Innovations Can Be Found On The Internet =-.

  14. says

    Good tips! Avoid jargons being the most prominent of them. Usage of jargons are handy when you talk to a closed group who understands them because they are in the same niche. But when it comes to technical writing on blogs, the radar gets expanded and people from various backgrounds visit and read. They shouldnt be confused over the jargons. Its quite simple to identify them with a search, but still it should not halt the flow of reading. Solid effort. Will re-tweet this writing tips post.

    • says

      Benjamin,

      It’s funny because a lot of people don’t realize that use jargon. If you were to ask people – I think the majority would say they don’t…but they do!

      I detest acronyms especially T. L. A.

      Thanks for the RT (re-tweet).

      Andrew

      T.L.A = three letter acronyms
      .-= New from Andrew @ Blogging Guide Am I alone in thinking these are odd… =-.

  15. says

    Keep information up to date – perhaps a timeless factor is in play.

    Some topics are timeless and some are not. Example if one write a post about how to open a paypal account, they might say it is currently banned in a country because of too many frauds case.

    When time change Paypal may allow and establish trades with that country, hence I think it will be a good etiquette for owner to made changes to reflect that new development.

    That’s base on my own experience with Paypal in Malaysia two years ago :)

  16. says

    Fantastic piece, Andrew!
    I always attempt to write in a conversational tone, none of that professor-speak (I’m not one by far BTW). LOL

    I remember when I started blogging, always thought there was just not enough written so my post were 800 to 1000 words. I learned as time passed that there was no need for that length. People want to scan and go.

    This post is loaded with great advice, something for the new and advanced blogger.
    Thanks for that, man. ;-)
    .-= New from Jimi Jones IMAutomator – A Social Bookmarking Tool That Delivers =-.

  17. says

    Awesome blog, Andrew. A lot of common sense in your advice that everyone could use. One thing that drives me up the wall the past few years is using ‘SMS lingo’ outside of SMS. Sentences like ‘hwr u dn evrthg k?’ for example. I give them a long lecture about proper spelling everytime. :)

    Till then,

    Jean

  18. says

    I love how open writing on the web is compared to how it was in school. My final paper in English was coincidentally about “the death of English” which I proceeded to tear apart common structuring throughout the essay.

    Of course, I didn’t receive the best grade but my teacher still told me I was onto something. Now, many years later, the web defines how I write – it paid off in the end.

    Keep it short, keep it sweet, interlink and question. Fundamentals.
    .-= New from Murlu 3 Easy Ways To Making More Sales (And How To Do Each) =-.

  19. says

    You make a ton of good points – “link and refer” is absolutely critical, and I actually don’t see enough of it from other bloggers, I feel. I actually kinda want to start another blog that is nothing but links and short blurbs, and see what happens. I imagine it might have some potential.
    .-= New from ashok “Introduction to Poetry,” Billy Collins =-.