Knowing your audience is the first rule of effective marketing (and writing). As a business, you probably have a pretty good idea of your demographic. But here’s a qualifier to add to your site visitors: web reader.
Web readers are different from print readers, in that web readers don’t actually read. They skim and scan and skip along through your prose, noticing only the keywords, links and bold text they trip over along the way.
Fortunately, there are a few tried and true ways to grab their attention. Here are a few rules to web writing that can help you target your text for finicky web readers…
1. Check your spelling and grammar.
Nothing sends people running the other way like typos and run-on sentences. That said, complicated grammar and sentence structures can be just as much of a turn-off.
2. Try to keep it casual.
Reading on the web is not the same as reading a book: there’s no discernible start and no discernible end. If the reader isn’t engaged, she can move on to the next article. Formal writing can be a bit of a drag in the fast-paced world of Internet reading, and if your copy is too dry or technical it might seem like too much work to read.
3. Limit yourself to one idea per paragraph.
And that idea needs to be presented in the first sentence. Elaborate if you want, maybe with a few juicy details, a bit of wit or a few references for those diehards who really do want to know more. But really, it’s just supposed to be clever filler that supports the original idea. Did you read this whole paragraph? Did you need to?
4. Use bullets and subheadings like they’re going out of style.
Single line subheadings are used to cull the thesis from the filler. And bullet points are fantastic because:
- They draw the eye.
- Lists look tidy.
- You don’t need to use a lot of words and punctuation to link ideas.
5. Use spaces to separate paragraphs, not indents.
Without the white space breaking up the paragraphs the text can look imposing. Like a giant, undefeatable monster. Break the monster into pieces and it’s not only manageable, but it might even be kind of cute.
6. The last rule is, of course, that there are no rules.
The above points are all decent guidelines, but are hardly law. If you don’t feel comfortable slipping in and out of bullet pointed lists, don’t do it. Do you really, really like multiple exclamation points? Use them!!
With web writing, the point of knowing the rules is that you know when you’re breaking them. Feel free to smash them to pieces, as long as you do it with purpose. That purpose is to promote the unique style of your business.
Developing a recognisable, consistent and easy-to-read style is a better tool than any tips you’ll read online. Find your brand’s voice; use the voice. Don’t let ‘rules’ get in the way of your identity.