Don’t know about you but when I’m looking for ‘tips to write content…’ I’m not looking for an introduction. I’m looking for tips. Period.
Let’s get right to the meat of the matter, shall we?
1. Don’t introduce, lead in instead
Stop using traditional introductions.
No one is curling up with a cup of coffee in hand to really, really read your article. It is a source of information – one of at least ten that someone clicked through to reach you – so that they could get the info your headline and description promised.
That said, don’t be abrupt, either. Write a short paragraph that leads your visitor into the writing. Something that says you value their time. Tell them the next paragraph has what you promised them.
Headlines also introduce your content but that topic requires a separate article in its own right. For now, use this free tool to create catchy headlines.
2. Keyword in the first paragraph
When writing for the web, your first paragraph could very well be a single sentence.
That’s fine. You are writing for your visitors. If you think a single sentence without the keyword in it is going to be appealing to your visitors, by all means, go for it.
However, it is best to include your primary keyword in the first 100 words or so, especially if you are also trying to rank in Bing. Search spiders need to understand with minimal crawling what the page is about.
Pro tip: It is even better if you can find a long tail keyword that contains your primary keyword.
3. Using Passives
Normally, passive sentences are to be avoided.
Not so if you are writing in the first person. Passive is better than continuously repeating the first person pronoun.
Read the paragraph below and tell me you don’t find it repetitive.
I normally write in the morning. My mornings begin at 6 0′ clock sharp. I don’t even need the alarm to sound before I wake up. But since it rings anyway, I have to turn it off. I work out a little before having a cup of green tea. After that, I have a small breakfast. And then, I’m ready to get down to some serious writing for the next two hours.
This could get more than a bit annoying even if your content is valuable. Imagine how many times your reader would see you refer to yourself in the span of … a thousand words, perhaps? Don’t use “I“ too frequently unless you’re writing for someone genuinely interested in your autobiography.
Let’s look at how the paragraph could sound better.
I normally write in the morning. Mornings begin at 6, sharp, even before the alarm begins to sound. It has to be turned off , though, because it does sound. A bit of workout, a cup of green tea and then a light breakfast and I’m ready to get down to some serious writing for the next two hours.
Try reading your article aloud and see if “I“ figures too frequently in the write-up. If it does, it is time to go passive in some of those instances.
The other option is to use “We“. However, that could get in the way if you are trying to create a writer persona for yourself. Obviously, “We” is the way to go if you are writing as part of an organization or brand and trying to create a persona that is not exactly personal.
Moving on, here’s an invaluable tool you’ll never stop using.
4. Are you readable?
Judging readability is easy.
Go here and either paste the URL of your article (if already published) or the text. If you are using the Yoast plugin for WordPress, you will automatically get a readability estimate. Keep your score between 60 and 70 and you are good to go.
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Score of this page is 73.9.
What makes any passage readable? Many things; three of the simplest elements come to mind.
Short sentences. Short paragraphs. White space.
The last two are great for legibility as well.
Pro tip: Short sentences are good but don’t use more than three or four in a row or your prose could sound choppy.
5. What about legibility?
Even though you are not using your handwriting, legibility is a factor. Most of us like to use fancy (and weird) fonts when we set up a blog for the first time. We want to make things ‘look good’.
Use fonts that are high on legibility. Also, use font-size that can be read without adjusting browser magnification. Usually, anything between 14 and 16 px is okay. And here’s a comprehensive article on Google fonts best suited for WordPress sites – wouldn’t hurt to take a look.
6. Use words to communicate, not impress
Whether it is the Web or the world of the printed word, rule of thumb is, use words in your writing to add value. Don’t use words to show you have a big ass vocabulary.
Follow this rule and you will never appear stupid and pretentious.
Both of which I would have been perceived as, had I styled the sentence above, thus:
‘Adhere to this rule and no one shall ever blame you for a perspicuous absence of intelligence and pervasive ostentatiousness ‘.
An overkill, but I am permitted a bit of fun, aren’t I?
Incidentally, this is what Learner’s Dictionary has to say about what I just used above:
“Aren’t I?” is commonly used and very acceptable in informal language. “Am I not?” is grammatical, but extremely formal, so in most contexts, “aren’t I?” is the preferred choice. The only exception is when you are writing a formal letter or an academic paper, and then you can either use “am I not?,” or even better, restructure the sentence to avoid using either of these forms.
Which takes us to what really matters on the Web
7. Conversational Style of Writing
And no, that doesn’t necessarily have to include expletives although some people seem to get away with them effing well!
Also, try not to use exclamation marks unless they are really called for and then, sparingly.
Did you notice, I mean, really notice anything out of place with the sentence above where I did use it? If you didn’t, the usage was fine. It blended in. If you did, well, I probably should be reading articles on writing than writing one. Do let me know in the comments.
On to personas, next.
8. Who are you talking to?
Everything doesn’t appeal to everyone and nor should you expect to target readers of all kinds of demographic to jump at your article.
Either imagine or write down and create a persona that you will be talking to. Factor in their age, occupation, level of education, interests and whatever else you can think of. Be specific, and give your persona a name. Keep the persona in mind when writing. Imagine yourself answering their query in a conversation. It is good to have more than one persona if you are writing on diverse topics.
The next best thing
If you find creating a persona too much work (I do), simply ‘Do unto others…’. How would you like your query to be answered? Write accordingly. You are still creating a persona, by the way, – YOU.
You’re unique, yes, and you’re not. There are lots of people like you surfing the web looking for answers to their questions. You will be addressing them.
Bear in mind, however, if you’re the kind of person that likes a long drawn introduction, a pedantic approach to conversation, and generally has lots of of time to kill, it is advisable to NOT write for your own persona.
9. Grammar and web content
There are lots of rules of grammar that we do not follow in a verbal conversation. We just saw an example in “aren’t I”. Feel free to begin sentences with But, Since, And, Because and whatever else your school teacher expressly forbade you to begin a sentence with.
Look, those rules are there for a reason. Once you know what that reason is, you also know if you still need to follow them.
When you begin a sentence with “But”, for example, you force the reader to go back to the previous sentence. Generally speaking, that is not polite. And English is supposed to be a polite language.
Having said that, if you are adding value with such usage, by all means, use the darn word. You could use it for suspense, you could use it to break up a paragraph that is getting monotonous, you could also use it for a mildly startling effect. Read your write-up aloud (or in your mind – whichever you are comfortable with) and see if you still like what you wrote.
In a sentence that begins with “But”, if you’ve managed to use it well, the reader will simply be drawn into what comes after “But”. Else, they will feel irritated that you keep using “But” and “And” and what not for no good reason. Usually, you can fix such sentences using words like “However”, “Moreover” and “Nevertheless”.
10. Length of your article
Statistics say that articles nearer to 3000 words get shared most.
Stats be damned.
How many 3000 word articles have you read, lately?
Yes, if they are guides (this one isn’t), you might be able to justify the length. If someone is conducting research, they might go through the entire article. Most people will just skim through. A more sensible suggestion is that offered by Hubspot: 1,600 words or 7 minutes to read.
Did you realize you just read through more than 1500 words?
11. So, what’s to be done when you have lots to say?
First, edit the stuff to see if you can bring down the word count to make the write-up more succinct.
Ideally, edit at least a day after you wrote the article. A degree of dissociation will help with a neutral perspective and lead to sensible edit.
Next, if that doesn’t reduce the length considerably, see if there are natural breaks in the article. If there are, split the article into two or more parts and post as separate articles targeting separate (but related) keywords.
Or, after splitting (and reducing the length of the original article), you could wait for comments and then post the next part. The comments might clue you in on what else your readers want. Give it to them in the follow-up article.
Write awesome content that people actually read:
- Lead into the meat of your article with a very brief introduction.
- Use a long tail keyword with the primary keyword in it in the first 100 words.
- Avoid passive forms unless you are writing in the first person.
- In which case, replace some of the “I” and “My” with passive sentences.
- Test readability with Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Test – a score between 60 and 70 is fine.
- Use fonts that are easy to read and font-size between 14 & 16 px for maximum legibility.
- Also use short sentences and paragraphs and white space.
- Avoid using more than 4 short sentences consecutively – your prose could turn choppy.
- Use words to communicate, not impress and overwhelm.
- Adopt a conversational style of writing that does not necessarily use expletives.
- Talk to your reader, use the second person pronoun “You” to create familiarity.
- Write correct English without being pedantic – “aren’t I?” is fine in conversation.
- Keep length of article at around 1600 words / 7 minute read.
- Edit and tighten your text the day after you write the first draft.
Do you have any workable writing tips to share?
Please let us have your views on effective web content writing in the comments.
Feature image courtesy: Staffer’s Book Review…a weblog from Justin