How to write ridiculously useful web copy

Are you completely focused on reading this article?

Perhaps you’re watching television or flicking between this post and your inbox.

Maybe you’re in a meeting.

Even if you’re 100 percent focused right now, I bet you’ve multi-tasked today: checking Facebook over breakfast, reading emails during a meeting or watching television while you shop online.

So you won’t be surprised to hear that most people don’t read web copy, word-for-word.

They skim and scan.

Keep it simple

When you’re writing for the web, you need to keep it simple. That means short words, sentences and paragraphs. No complex or technical vocabulary. And no ‘word waste’ (that’s anything that doesn’t add meaning or insight).

Choose strong verbs, use adjectives sparingly and your writing will have more bite.

It’s the difference between this:

The keen sharp spike of pleasure when I make something new and an all consuming feeling that continues to drive me to explore more.

and this:

Cooking excites me.

Every word works for its place on the page.

Just as it should do.

Break it up

According to the  latest research, the average attention span is now just eight seconds.

So when you’re writing for the web, you need to break up your text with bullet points, subheadings and images.

Add value by adding hyperlinks - both to your own site - like this article on 11 signs you're a good writer (word nerds will love #11) - and to other peoples’, like Hubspot’s 55% of people spend less than 15 seconds on your website. Should you care?

Use active voice

Note the difference between these two sentences:

The newspaper is being read by the girl (passive voice)


The girl is reading the newspaper (active voice)

The second is more engaging because the subject of the sentence (i.e. the girl) is performing the action stated by the verb (reading the newspaper). It is more direct and uses less words.

The wrongness of passive voice isn’t universal, but wouldn’t it have been clearer if I had said passive voice isn’t always wrong?

p.s. I stole that line from this Copyblogger article but that’s ok. Here’s why it’s good to be a copycat.

Write killer headlines

Sadly there’s no magic formula for headline writing (although I’ve written more here about what motivates people to read, watch or listen to something). But some types of headlines do seem to work with most audiences.

Posing questions works well - as in this post: Want to get more press coverage? Try using these 9 influential words. It’s also a bit of a tease, as is 23 questions you should ask yourself before you pitch an idea to a journalist. It’s no accident that both use numbers (the odder the better) as does my most popular post: 49 words you should avoid in your press releases. Putting contrasting ideas together can also be effective, as I found with another of my greatest hits: why using big words can make you look stupid. 

You might also like how to write exciting copy about boring things.

Do think about what people might type into a search engine to find your content and try to use key words and phrases in your headline (and opening paragraph). But don’t get too hung up on SEO.

Quality should come first.