What are the best practices for writing for the internet

Nivo Digital

10 June 2020

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The words on your website are there to attract, inform, engage, and convert your visitors, so getting them right is extremely important. There are various writing for the web best practices you should try to follow in your content – some of them may not be relevant to you, but try to stick to as many as you can.

Make your content the right length

There are two elements to length – the length of the page, or how many words in total, and the length of the sentences and paragraphs on that page. The length of the page should be long, while the sentences should be short.

To expand – pages with more content generally rank higher than those with less. The top positions in Google search go to pages with around 1900 words. There is no magic number of words, so if you don’t have enough to say to hit nearly 2000 words that’s ok, but longer is better for search. The crucial point is that those words are useful – writing long but boring or uninspiring content won’t help.

On the flip side, the individual sentences and paragraphs should be relatively short. Make it easy for your visitors. Long paragraphs with lines and lines of dense text will make it harder to read, and easier for people to move on to a more user-friendly site.

Use Signposts like Subheadings and Bullet Points

Another way to make your website copy easy to read is to use signposts to let the reader scan the page and find what they’re looking for.

Subheadings are extremely useful – they break up large chunks of text and give the reader a hint of what is contained in the following paragraph. Don’t be coy or try to be too clever, keep your subheadings informative. Use h2 and h3 header tags and those subheadings add SEO value, too.

Bullet points are another way to break up lengthy copy, so if they fit the content then add them. But make sure they do fit the content – lengthy bullet points that should really be sentences don’t actually help.

Use First and Second Person – Avoid Third

First person: I or we
Second person: you
Third person: he/she/they

Businesses often write about themselves in the third person, which is simply not right for the web. This example shows how stilted it can sound:

“Acme Industries is a renowned company that creates widgets. Its mission is to create the best widgets for its clients.”

Third person adds a layer of formality and distance between you and your audience. It also sounds inauthentic – if I’m on your website, why is the content talking about you rather than being from you? Even just changing to first and second person, without fixing the clunky content, makes our sentence above much more personalised:

“Acme Industries are a renowned company that create widgets. Our mission is to provide you with the best widgets.”

Using ‘you’, the second person, lets you talk directly to the reader, which is a lot more engaging – customers want to know how you will help them.

Use Keywords Wisely

Years ago, keywords were all the rage. You couldn’t read a website without having the same words crammed into every other sentence. Thankfully, today’s use of keywords is more discerning.

After you’ve found the right keywords for your website, it’s time to include them in your copy. But the aim isn’t to simply add the words as often as possible – these days it’s much more important to write content that people want to read. And that definitely doesn’t involve shoving the same words and phrases in everywhere.

Include your keywords but make them part of the writing. Use them in context, don’t just scatter them around. And search engines are much more intelligent than they used to be, so you don’t need to use the exact same phrase every single time.

Instead of thinking of individual keywords, think about topics. If you’re talking about ‘SEO for small businesses’, for example, your topic keywords would also include ‘search engine optimisation’, ‘optimising your small business online’, and so on. The more context, the better.

Write in Plain English – Skip the Jargon

Unless your audience talks exclusively in industry jargon, you should avoid using it on your website. Write the way people speak. Use your keyword research to find the terms people actually use to find your services and mirror their language.

“We leverage optimised turn-key solutions to improve core competencies and demolish silos”

Versus

“We help your staff build their skills and improve how well teams work together across your business.”

It might be ever so slightly longer, but it doesn’t sound like a stereotype of an 80s marketing guy trying to be clever.

Tell people in real terms what you do and how they’ll benefit. If there are a few technical terms that are necessary, that’s fine, but make sure you explain them and use them sparingly.

Ultimately, what all these tips are trying to get at is this – make is easy for people to read and understand your content. That’s the absolute, fundamental point behind writing for the web.