The eighth installment of our new blog series, “Preach what we Practice” where we’ll give fellow small business owners a back-stage pass to how we do business. This week and next we’re in ‘debunking-mode’.

– Seth –

photo credit: fiddle oak via photopin cc
photo credit: fiddle oak via photopin cc

Forgive my assumption/accusation in the headline here, but the truth is that writing for the web is not the same as writing for pretty much anything else.

Are you making these mistakes?  I know I have.  I grew up reading novels, short stories, the odd essay.  Long form writing.  Writing for the web could be more closely compared with writing poetry, except the assumption in poetry (and the other forms listed above) is that both writer and reader have/will devote as much thought and concentration to the ideas and words in the piece as they can.

What many folks fail to understand right away about writing for the web is that you can’t make the same assumption.  Expecting your reader to devote their entire attention to your article is a bit foolish.  Consider how many tabs you likely have open on your browser right now.  If this article fails to grab your attention you’ll just tab away and never look back.  Sad and truth.

Mistake # 5: Solid Wall of Text

On paper, we’re pretty much used to seeing this.  One paragraph might span two pages.  Even though we’re accustomed to it, how many times have your eyes glazed over as your eyes tracked every sentence, only to realize you have no clue what you just read?  I’m betting this has happened to you at least once.

On screen, it becomes even more difficult to deal with the text-wall.  One bump of the scroll button and each word is now at a different location relative to the borders of your screen.

The Solution: Easy one: break up those huge run on paragraphs into smaller, discrete ones.  Vary the length of each paragraph slightly/whenever possible, so the eyeball can keep track of where it is.  Use bold and italics like you’re writing a Batman comic.  When appropriate, use bullet-ed lists, add photos. Web text needs texture. Forget that, and you’ll find your self committing:

Mistake #4: Ignoring Your Headings and Sub-Headings

Headings and sub headings provide texture for the human eye as well as search engine robots, making your post or article easier to read for both.  HTML has this functionality built in, so you have no excuse not to use it.   Enough said.

The Solution:  Use ’em!

Mistake #3: Opaque Writing

This applies to every kind of writing, actually, but it’s pretty important.  Don’t try to look clever.  Don’t write in “academese” aka the hyper-bloated style so heavily abused by clever people who suck at writing. Standard Written English is supposed to convey meaning efficiently and elegantly, which is why it’s never used in wide variety of grad-programs.  Zing!

photo credit: Robert Croma via photopin cc
photo credit: Robert Croma via photopin cc

The Solution: If you find that you can’t even bring yourself to proofread what you just wrote, maybe you need to tone some things down a bit.  Pick up a book.  Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is an example of a writer who delivers meaning with a minimum of frills.  His ideas are the meat of the matter with him, and they come across through a text that keeps you forgetting that it’s actually extremely plain.  Easily 3rd grade level material if it wasn’t so doom and gloomy all the time.

Mistake #2: Keyword Abuse

While it’s a good idea to know what keywords you might want to include in your content, going too far will render your article incomprehensible to most readers.  Remember that when you research keywords, you’re really researching questions people are asking, and looking for the ones you can answer.  

The Solution: If you have an answer to the question “What is the name of Morgan Freeman’s left freckle?”, then sure, write about it.  If you find yourself straining to drop Morgan Freeman-bombs all over the article though, you’ve gone too far.

Mistake #1: Clever Headlines

I’m not completely opposed to clever headlines, but if your “clever” idea for a headline doesn’t make the content of the article clear, then I have no reason to click through to the full article.  Likewise, a clever headline can promise a different kind of article than the one you actually write.  Let go of cleverness.  Nobody likes a Smart-Alek anyhow.

The Solution: Write an honestly “boring” headline first, and compare it to your clever headline.  Which is easier to understand?  Which is more enticing?  Most importantly, which is more relevant to the content of your article?  

This guide is just a primer.  What other mistakes do folks make when writing for the web?  What mistakes do I make?  Weigh in by leaving a comment below.