Online Writing: The Basics
I’ve learned heaps since first typing ‘how to write for online’ into Google’s search field a few years ago. The basics are the same but they have evolved over time.
I want to share those basics with you.
People read in an F-Shape
By ‘read’ I really mean ‘glance’. Your audience will run their eyes across the first paragraph from left to right. They’ll then drop their eyes down the left margin for anything that catches their eye.
Around mid-way, they’ll dart their eyes from left to right, then keep scrolling whilst concentrating on the left margin to complete the F shape.
Depending on the article, they may dart right again a few more times… or they could move away from it completely.
That’s just the basic eye movement. With that in mind, how can you encourage your reader to consume your content?
Start with an engaging headline
Since my blog is more about helping you to improve your writing, I don’t use wacky headlines. Each headline should give you an idea of which skill you'll improve.
For a travel blog, “5 Things You Must See In London” is common. Can you make it more engaging? Like ‘5 Places You Don’t Want To Die’. You could run with the same content but a different skew could draw readers in.
Reward for clicking
Your headline needs to reflect your content. This is important. If your content is good and your reader doesn’t feel cheated, you’re in a great position from the start!
Also make sure your content doesn’t waste your reader’s time. They’re investing time in your content and they want to come out the other side feeling entertained, educated etc.
Kill from the start!
We know that readers glance in an F-Shape. They’ll probably read your first paragraph but if you don't give them reason to continue, you’ve lost them!
Use the first paragraph to set up your content, while ensuring the reader that they will benefit from the rest of your content. If they don’t see the value in investing even one second more, they're gone.
Readers don’t need an excuse to skim, so don’t give them one. If you have a weak paragraph, make it stronger or leave it out. Don’t lose your reader because of something avoidable.
Improve word economy
Don’t give your reader an excuse to skim - omit redundant words. You might end up merging two paragraphs into one! Remember, shorter is better.
Everyone likes to look at pictures. I set one at the top right of each blog post. Doing so draws in readers who love pics AND people who don’t mind text. It makes the first paragraph look a little shorter and takes advantage of that F-Shape mentioned earlier.
Feel free to keep your reader engaged by adding more pictures further down in your content. I prefer keeping it aligned to the right but it doesn’t really matter.
There’s no reason why you shouldn’t link to other pages.
Links can also point to articles of interest, pages that offer supporting evidence, videos etc.
This article isn’t the place to discuss the definition of Word Economy – you might know what it is and you would then skim over that point (making this article pointless), so I added a link for readers who need it.
Format quotes differently
Because people read in an F-Shape, they enjoy different types of formatting.
Quotes, stats etc can be formatted differently to mix your article up. I increase the size, bold it and tab it to the right a couple of times.
Here’s an example:
“Formatting quotes like this will make your content more engaging.”
That’s only a few basics. Take in those points and you’ll start to improve your online copy in no time!