Real talk. Web writing is a labour of love and can be pretty darn technical. You have to invest time and creative energy into ensuring each word you’re pumping out screams value.
The first step is the one you’re taking right now. Actively seeking advice to continually better your writing. So before we continue on with the practical stuff, congratulate yourself for already showing the dedication and care needed to craft stellar content.
Planning and research: setting yourself up for success
To write content that reads well and resonates with people, you gotta put the hard yards in early. Do everything you can to understand what you’re writing about and who you’re writing for. Not only will it help you justify language decisions to clients or stakeholders, it will also make the writing process far more interesting and enjoyable.
What are you writing about? Is it a service, a product, an idea, a promise? Study it for a bit. Immerse yourself in it. If it’s an About page, learn about the brand’s history. If you’re selling a jacket, learn how it was made. The more you understand what you’re writing about, the better you can represent it through your words. How long you spend doing this depends on the timelines you’re working towards — but it always, always pays to be curious.
Audience and behaviour
Who you’re writing for is just as important as what you’re writing about, because it will be key in developing the right positioning. There’s a shitload of information out there on market segmentation, but here’s the basics:
Geographic: nation, state, city or suburb
Demographic: age, gender, education, income, occupation, family structure
Psychographic: personality, values, lifestyle
Behaviouristic: buying and spending habits, brand loyalty
In order for your content to generate engagement and conversions, your content has to be found. Incorporating keywords and phrases people are actively searching for in your content will help with this.
If you work with an SEO manager, get them to do the research for you. If you’re flying solo and can’t afford a paid keyword planner, there are some good free Chrome extensions around to help. Two tools I like to use are SEO META in 1 CLICK and Keyword Surfer.
Snoop on what others are doing; not to copy them, but to learn from them. What are they doing well? What did they mess up on? Is there something that you can do that they can’t?
Writing: turning research into content
Ok, with the groundwork done, we get into the meat of the actual writing. All the research you did is going to inform what you put on page. Let the following points guide you, and you can’t go wrong.
How you say something is just as important as what you say, and knowing how to say it is all about understanding who you’re talking to. Confused? Think of it this way, you don’t talk to grandma the same way you talk to your sexy-time lover. You adapt your tone. Same thing with web writing. Is the brand you’re representing friendly, authoritative, snarky, sassy, casual? Capture a personality and let it sing out through your words. You need to be obvious with it, but not indulge in too many clichés to achieve it. If you did your research well enough, developing the right tone should be pretty straight forward.
People tend to visit websites for three reasons; to buy something, learn something or be entertained. What are you trying to achieve? Make sure the words you’re crafting for a particular webpage are all tied to one central, unifying idea. If you muddy the waters with too many options or narratives, it will both confuse and frustrate your audience. Always be deliberate and ensure each word you put on page has value.
Consider the user journey and organise your writing with a clear start, middle and end. Typically, interest dies off the longer people scroll down a page, so be strategic with your messaging. The most important thing you want to say should always come first.
Remember those keywords and phrases you looked up? Use those to help develop meaningful headings and subheadings. Great headings not only help Google crawl your and understand your content more efficiently, they act as signposts for scrolling visitors to quickly scan and find the information that’s most useful to them.
Be particular and purposeful with your words, not vague or fluffy. Too short and you’ll be punished by search engines for “thin content.” Too long and people will lose interest. At the end of the day, remember that sometimes it’s the words you don’t use that make the ones you do that much more impactful. Be critical of your own work and leave out anything that doesn't offer any obvious value.
Writing in Plain English about writing clearly, succinctly and without jargon so that a variety of people can understand it. The basics include:
Short sentences: Try to keep most of your sentences between 15-20 words, where possible. It’s just easier to read.
Rhythm: If every sentence follows the same structure, your writing will be boring and hella robotic. Mix it up. Use one long sentence then a super short one. Like what I just did. See?
Active voice: Write more sentences that read like this: John walked the dog. Rather than like this: The dog was walked by John.
Inclusive language: Create a sense of familiarity with your reader by talking to them, rather than at or about them. Use words like ‘our’ and ‘we’ and ‘you’.
Bullet points: Make content easier to read and digest (where appropriate) by using lists to split up information.