Web writing - why writing for the web matters

You may have come across the expressions “web writing” or “writing for the web” and wondered why writing for the web is different to other types of writing. Here’s why.

Factors that influence how web content should be written include:

  • how we read online
  • web accessibility at the content level
  • search engine optimisation at the content level.

Although these are quite different, the effect they have on how we should write is surprising similar.

How we read online

When we use the web we are most often undertaking a specific task, such as finding a particular piece of information or making an online purchase. Generally we want to do it as quickly as we can. With so much web content available it can take a bit of sifting to find the website that will best help us accomplish the task at hand.

As a result we tend to evaluate a web page very quickly. If we can’t see at a glance whether it will help us with our task we move on to the next site.

Applying a few web writing principles can help your content stand out at a glance.

Use fewer words 

The fewer words there are on a page the more quickly it can be read.

Put the important information first

Traditional writing often involves starting with the background and ending with a conclusion. On the web it is the conclusion that people will be most interested in. If the background is included at all it should only be to provide necessary context, and even then it should be later on the page, or on a separate linked page.

Structure the content

Content should be highly structured with headingsbullet pointstables and other appropriate formatting methods used. This makes the content easier to scan, so the reader can see at a glance whether the content is what they are looking for.

Use the right language

The writing should be as clear and simple as possible. It is important to use words that your audience would use, so they recognise quickly that this content is what they are looking for. It is also important to avoid jargon, or technical terms that your audience may not understand.

Content level accessibility

Accessibility is all about your content being available to the widest possible audience - including those with disabilities. Many things about a website, including its design and the technologies used can affect the accessibility of a website, but how the content is written is very important. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines highlight a number of issues that need to be taken into account when writing web content, such as:

  • using the clearest and simplest language appropriate for the content
  • writing page titles, headings and link text that are descriptive
  • structuring written text using headings, bullet points, tables and other appropriate formatting
  • avoiding use of structure to achieve a particular appearance (for example, making text a heading just so it looks bigger even though it isn’t actually a heading, or putting text in a table just to format it into two columns)
  • providing explanatory text to go with non-text content such as images, video and audio, if that non-text content is important 
  • avoiding the use of text colour alone to convey meaning (for example giving some items in a list a green text colour to indicate they are good, and others a red text colour to indicate they are bad).

Content level search engine optimisation

It is the job of search engines to help their users find the web content that best fits what they are searching for.

The purpose of search engine optimisation (SEO) is to make sure sure that your web content ranks as highly as possible in those searches. The quality of your written content is probably the single most important factor influencing your search rankings.

All of the factors that make your content accessible also help to ensure that search engines can make the best assessment of your content. (After all search engines can’t see, hear, or use a keyboard or mouse, so accessible content is very important to them.)

There are other tricks to writing your content that can also improve your search rankings.

Quality contentWeb content that is high quality and unique to your site attracts both visitors and search engines to your site. Conversely, poorly written content, or content which is identical to content on other sites will give your site poor credibility.KeywordsThink about the words people are mostly likely to use to search for your content, and ensure those words feature prominently in what you write. This will help search engines associate your content with what people are actually searching for.

Published: Friday, 13 July 2012