As a small or mid-size business owner, you may be unsure how to write for the web. These tips and best practices will help you communicate with your website and/or blog visitors.
Writing for the Web: Don’t Fear Words on Websites
Digital marketers refer to website writing (and images) as “content.” Don’t be afraid of writing longer content—that is more words. As long as you’re using the minimal number of words necessary to get your ideas across, “more” can often be better.
It was Bill Gates who prophetically wrote that “content is king” on the internet. That was back in 1996. Content is still king.
Appropriate Web Content Length
The robots that crawl the web, such as Googlebot, cannot read images. They read code and words. Therefore, words are important for the robots.
Websites that are built and navigated with images are unlikely to rank well–even with special tags on the images called alt tags.
As SEO experts, we used to recommend 300 words per website page. We believe it takes a minimum of 250 to 300 words per page for Googlebot to understand the contents of your page.
At that time, we considered this to be “short form” content. Now, we often consider as many as 600 words per page to be “short form” content.
Google’s John Mueller says there is no minimum amount of words that are needed for a website page to rank. What DOES matter, Mueller says, is a sufficient number of words for Googlebot to “understand” what the page is about.
However, a classic Ahrefs study found that longer content ranked better. First page results contained nearly 800 words in position 1 and dropped continuously to about 350 words for position 10.
Similarly, in another study, Backlinko reported that the average Google first page result contained a whopping 1890 words. On that first page, position 2 contained an average of 2000 words; position 10 boasted about 1750 words.
While Ahrefs and Moz don’t endorse a specific word count, other reputable sources have recommended from 1000 to 1900 words.
In summary, longer, relevant, and unique content is more likely to rank on page 1 of the search return. We recommend that your content include long-form content—that is 1200 words or more per page. For example, this blog is more than 1300 words.
Four Reasons Why Writing Longer Content May Be Better
- It may get more shares.
- The Google algorithm may favor longer content. Google denies this.
- The Google algorithm may be able to better grasp the relevance of longer content.
- Writers who take care in researching and writing effective content may go deeper on a topic, creating an inherent advantage of unique content.
How to Know How Long Your Content Is
It’s simple to check how many words you’ve included in your blog post or website page.
In your Word document, go to “Review” in the top navigation bar. Click on either “Word Count” or “Spelling and Grammar.” Either of these will automatically count your words for you. You may need to change your Microsoft Word settings to see these options.
Will People Read That Much Writing on the Web?
Your reaction is most likely, “Whoa! No one is going to read that much on the web!”
Quite possibly that’s true. Research indicates that people tend to scan on the web rather than read every word verbatim.
At the same time, web visitors will also slow down and actually read paragraphs that interest them.
The more depth with which you cover a topic, the more likely Google will find that your content matches the user’s intent. As we discussed in our recent blog, 25 Worst SEO Mistakes to Avoid in 2020, understanding the user’s intent is key to Google search return pages.
How to Make Your Web Writing Digestible
How do you cover a topic and not waste your time or money on a long diatribe that people will neither read nor scan? Again, web research points to the answer.
Most often, people read or scan on the internet in an F-pattern. In other words, they tend to read across the top for a few lines and then scan down the left-hand column.
You can help your readers scan the content by applying the following website techniques:
Use relevant headers and subheads.
Your heads and subheads should include one H1 and as many H2s as you need. Subheads under your H2s would be H3s, and so forth. Use them as you would use an outline to your content. Do not use these as design elements. Instead, use them to structure your information.
Place your most important information first.
Visitors are most likely to see and READ this content.
It’s easier to scan down the left-hand side of the page
Keep sentences short.
Sentences of no more than 10-12 words are sufficient. But vary sentence length for interest.
Write brief paragraphs.
Just 2-4 sentences per paragraph will suffice.
Bold or italicize key concepts.
This accentuation will make key ideas pop.
Use capitalization sparingly.
Once a go-to solution for emphasis, capitalization may scream at readers. Minimize the use of all uppercase letters. Use them sparingly or when you want to wake up, shock, or even yell at your visitors.
Add links that go to other pages within your website.
These links are called internal links.
Create links that direct to other pages outside your website.
Outside links are called external links.
Include imagery to break up the words.
People love visual content, and it can create more interest. Plus, you can re-use the imagery in social media posts.
Insert page breaks, so copy looks less daunting.
Breaking content into chunks keeps it from being overwhelming.
Don’t start your bullets or sentences with the same word.
Vary your content so readers don’t gloss over the words.
By the way, many of these web best practices can also help with long emails where you need to provide written documentation. (Otherwise, good old-fashioned conversations work, too!)
Web Writing: Avoid Jargon and “Fancy” Words
“Natural language” is language that imitates how people talk and/or how they conduct a search on Google or other search engines. Natural language is simple. It doesn’t use a lot of jargon or technical words.
For example, the title of this article is “Writing for the Web.” It’s not:
“How to Write Websites” or
“How to Write Website Copy” or
“Writing for the Internet” or
“How to Write for the Web.
We chose the current title because our keyword research revealed that many more people searched the first option. At the same time, not so many had written on the topic that we couldn’t rank for it.Be sure you’ve done your keyword research, too.
Natural language is becoming increasingly more important as voice search continues to gain popularity. Not only are people using voice search on their mobile devices, but also the growing use of Google Home, Amazon’s Echo, and other smart technologies make natural language and voice search more relevant than ever.
How to Know If You’re Using Simple, Natural Language
It’s easy to check how complicated your writing is.
In your Word document, go to “Review” in the top navigation bar. Click on “Spelling and Grammar.” (You may need to change your Word options to add the grammar setting.) The review will return a “Flesch-Kinkaid” grade level.
For example, this post is written at a 7.7 grade level. Half of US adults read at a grade level below the 8th grade, so you want to ensure you’re not writing copy that’s too complicated. What’s more, people’s speaking language is even less sophisticated.
Good writing principles still apply on the web as they do anywhere.
- Avoid passive voice.
- Speak directly to your audience (“you” and “we,” rather than “they”).
- Check your spelling and grammar.
- Proofread and edit. (We like to let content “grow cold” for a day or two, then return to it.)
- “Write tight;” don’t use more words than necessary to convey your message.
- Be unique. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
10 Writing Mistakes to Avoid
1. Diving into writing.
One writing mistake to avoid is simply diving into writing. Instead, use search engines, such as Google or free keyword search tools to investigate which keywords and topics people are seeking.
2. Using a scattershot approach.
Another writing mistake is trying to be all things to all people. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. Instead, consider and speak to your target audience, segment or persona. Keywords and a consideration of your persona are more likely to lead to website traffic.
3. Writing what “feels good” in the moment.
Don’t ignore any overall brand strategy or marketing plan. Instead, be sure your content fulfills a product or service objective. Don’t just write what’s “fun” to you.
While telling a good story can be helpful, no one really cares what you ate for breakfast, about the long line at the coffee shop, or your new exercise routine.
4. Burying keyword phrases.
Use keyword phrases prominently in headers and at the beginning of titles or sentences.
5. Overusing keyword phrases.
Overusing keyword phrases will annoy your readers, sound ridiculous, and negatively impact your SEO.
6. Always writing in full sentences.
Your fifth grade teacher may have required you to write in full sentences. But web readers want to scan information quickly. Don’t be afraid to use phrases. Really.
7. Overusing adverbs.
Use strong “power” verbs instead of the verb “to be” or a weak verb with an -ly word. To be or not to be. Not to be is better.
For example, you might write “the girl sauntered, skipped, crawled, crept, or strolled into the room.”
Don’t write “the girl walked in proudly, came in happily, or came in slowly.” Or worse, “the girl was proud, the girl was happy, the girl was sneaky.”
8. Peppering your copy with clichés.
Don’t write copy until the cows come home, that’s dry as a bone, or that leaves your reader fit to be tied. (Or is chockful of a lot of other clichés.
9. Eschewing style guides.
It’s important to understand what needs to be capitalized, where commas should and should not be inserted, and spelling words consistently from one page (or paragraph) to the next.
For example: Health care? Healthcare?
Style guides can help you be consistent.
10. Flouting SEO best practices.
SEO best practices are also user best practices. You’ll want to understand these. For example, cross-link between content topics on your site. You’ll want to garner traffic.
Follow an Overall Content Strategy
Every blog and website page should be part of an overall marketing strategy. A content marketing strategy is a plan that focuses on creating and sharing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to a specific audience (your prospects and/or customers). Its purpose is to create more brand awareness, greater trust and authority, more inquiries, more leads, and ultimately more revenue.
We like this definition of a content marketing strategy:
A plan for building an audience by publishing, maintaining, and spreading frequent and consistent content that educates, entertains, or inspires to turn strangers into fans and fans into customers.
Need Help Writing for the Web?
Whether you’re looking for a marketing consultant or an online digital agency, we can build your website, write your content, and grow your business.
Nancy Burgess Strategic Marketing offers integrated marketing strategy and tactics for new and existing companies. Each solution is tailored to your needs to help grow your business.