Writing for the Internet:
See also: Writing Marketing Copy
Blogs and Other Internet Copy
One of the most common forms of writing now is writing for internet publication. This may be for publication on blogs, social media sites, or other websites.
This page focuses on copy that is specifically designed for internet publication, rather than writing that is created for other purposes but later published online.
In some ways, writing for the internet is very similar to any other form of writing. You need to consider the purpose of your writing, and your audience, and you also need to be aware of any constraints such as word limits. However, there are also other more technical aspects to consider when writing for the internet, including search engine optimisation (SEO) and use of social media to share content.
Different Types of Internet Copy
There are many different forms of copy for use on the internet. They include:
Blogs, short for weblogs
Blogs were originally simply online diaries written by individuals. However, the term is now used for any relatively short-form and regularly updated content on websites. They are typically run by one person, or a small group, and are written in a conversational or informal style.
A website is a series of linked webpages, usually produced by one person or organisation. Content for websites may also take different forms, depending on the organisation. However, most websites are designed to provide information and/or entertainment.
Social media posts
Social media sites are a particular form of websites, with user-generated content. The form of posts will vary with the site. For example, Facebook posts tend to be shorter, and often include photographs. LinkedIn tends to attract longer-form content, with posts being around 750 words. YouTube is all about video content.
Other online copy
Very often, content created for other purposes will be published online. This might include press releases, marketing copy, and white papers or reports. In these cases, the primary purpose of the document is not its online publication. The writer usually focuses on the primary purpose, and the document is then amended if necessary before online publication.
Writing for the Internet: Before You Start
As with any other form of writing, you need to follow some basic rules when writing for the internet. These include:
1. Consider your audience
The first aspect is to consider your audience: the people you want to read your text. Think about:
Who will read your text in as much detail as possible. Think about them as individuals, as well as their job level or organisational function when writing for business;
Why they might want to read your text (in other words, what will make them click on your text, not someone else’s);
What they want to get from it, or what information they are looking for;
Their level of understanding of and familiarity with the subject matter, including compared with your knowledge and understanding. Are you considerably more expert than them, or are you writing for people at your level of understanding?
2. Consider the purpose of your writing
Second, you need to consider why you are writing this piece. In other words, what is the aim of your writing?
This might be, for example, because you want to attract more people to your website, or communicate the benefits of your product. For some blogs, it might simply be that you wish to share your thoughts with the world.
These two aspects are the most important, and the first consideration. However, there are also other aspects that you then need to bear in mind.
3. Any constraints on your writing
Check whether you are limited in length (for example, if you have to remain within a certain number of characters or words). Also check whether there are any other constraints or requirements. For example, do you need to produce a brief summary of the document for parallel publishing, or include keywords anywhere?
Be aware of reader preferences
It is worth considering the ‘ideal’ length for your chosen platform or medium, which is usually dictated by reader preferences.
For example, some websites, such as Medium, encourage long-form copy because people go there for more in-depth articles. Readers on other platforms, like LinkedIn, tend to prefer shorter copy, up to about 750 words.
These three aspects will affect the content and form of your writing, so are worth considering. However, there are also other important aspects of writing for the internet.
Writing for Screen Reading
It sounds obvious, but most people reading text published on the internet will be reading on screen. They are very unlikely to print anything out to read. Many will be reading on mobile.
This means that you need to break up the text to make it easier on the eye, by:
Using short sentences and paragraphs to keep your readers’ attention; and
Using headings to highlight particular topics and enable people to skim-read if they wish.
Most internet content is also written in a relatively conversational style, to make it easier to read.
Search Engines and Internet Writing
If you search for advice on internet writing, you are likely to find several terms that come up repeatedly, including search engine optimisation (SEO), metadata, and tags.
But what do these terms mean?
They all relate to the ‘findability’ of information online, or how search engines behave.
Search engine optimisation is the practice of changing your page so that search engines are more likely to find it, and put it closer to the front page of search findings for a particular term.
Metadata is ‘data about data’. In search terms, it is data that search engines read but people do not see. It may include a longer title, a description of your text, and tags or keywords describing the content. Getting the right metadata helps search engines to judge the quality of your page.
Tags are keywords, or short words and phrases that sum up the content of a webpage or article. They are often part of the metadata behind a website or page.
What We Know About Search Engines
Search engine companies such as Google do not publish details of precisely what makes one page ‘better’ than another in search terms. Algorithms are also very sophisticated.
It is therefore very hard to tell exactly what might make a page more attractive to search engines. However, we do know that search engines basically want to be as useful as possible to their users, because they want people to keep coming back. More users = more advertising revenue, after all.
This means that search algorithms are aiming to find pages that their users will find useful—and then rank them in order of usefulness.
It is therefore hard to take specific actions to make particular pages more findable. However, on a general level, we know that search engines value:
Pages that users stay on for longer. This means longer pages are good—but only if they hold your audience’s attention. The content therefore needs to be useful to your audience.
Pages that are parts of sites that hold users. In other words, sites where users move from page to page are likely to be more useful than those where readers go to a single page, and then go elsewhere. Internal links within your site can help to hold readers’ attention.
Sites that have been updated more recently, because search engines believe that newer information is more likely to be up-to-date and therefore useful. It is therefore helpful to check and update pages regularly, even if only in very minor ways.
Sites with links from other, reputable sites. This needs care. Links from large reputable sites are good, because this shows that pages are useful. However, ‘link stuffing’, or the practice of putting in lots of links from sites that exist only to provide this service, is likely to move you down search rankings.
Big sites, such as social media networks, because of the number of users. This is partly why so many people choose to publish their content on social media sites.
Internet Writing and Social Media
Social media sites are many people’s go-to sources for news and content.
They have therefore become important platforms for sharing content written for the internet.
This follows even for content published elsewhere, such as via an organisational website. It is therefore important to consider how your content might be shared on social media, to maximise its exposure. This might include a summary post, or a strong headline that summarises the content, and makes people more likely to click through to the article.
We also know that search engines do not like content that is repeated from other sites, because they aim to discourage plagiarism. However, this is difficult to judge, because it is reasonable to publish your own content in several places. To avoid difficulties, it may be better to have one primary publication site, and then share a link on other sites.
WARNING! Experts in search engine optimisation may not be all that expert
There are plenty of ‘experts’ ready to charge you vast sums of money to ‘optimise’ your website or article for search engines, or to explain what to do to make yourself more findable by search engines in ‘three easy steps’.
Most of this is, at best, guesswork. Nobody (except those doing the programming) really knows exactly how each search engine works.
Anyone who promises you optimisation in ‘three easy steps’ is likely to be robbing you.
It is probably better to publish content that appeals to your audience, and don’t worry too much about ‘optimisation’.
It is also worth remembering that search engine optimisation is a long-term project. You won’t see results within a week, because it takes the search engines time to ‘find’ changes. It may take six months, or even a year, to see the effect of any activity.
The bottom line
The bottom line with writing for the internet is that what really matters is to provide content that works for your audience. Aim to create good content that your audience likes and reads, and you will not go far wrong.