Back when I was in journalism school at the University of Missouri, digital media was a hot new topic. The tried-and-true principles of writing and design weren’t quite working the same way on a computer as they did on magazines and newspapers. As a result, we were all—students, professors and working journalists—trying to figure out the most effective, engaging ways to tell stories that would be accessed via a computer.
At the time, we didn’t know that mobile phones would soon become even more popular media consumption devices than our computers. (I was still rocking an LG flip phone that played a polyphonic rendition of “When the Levee Breaks” every time I got a call.)
Today, the pace of change hasn’t slowed a bit. New technologies like virtual and augmented reality, voice search and linguistically advanced chatbots are continuing to challenge marketers, product designers and communicators of all stripes.
But there are some basic best practices for writing digital content that continue to serve us well at Imagination. Below, I share nine web writing best practices that you can lean on to consistently craft effective digital content.
Writing for the Web: Best Practices
- Know your audience. The prerequisite for good content (web or print) is a detailed understanding of your audience. For example, content crafted for “marketing directors at Fortune 500 technology firms” is usually more effective than content created for a broad audience of “technology executives.” In some cases, you may need to develop personas to gain a clearer understanding of specific audiences.
- Use bullets, lists and subheads. Digital audiences frequently scan online content for highlights. By using bullet points, lists, subheads and other strategies, you can align your content with the visual needs of your audience.
- Make your most important points early. Most site users don’t read “below the fold,” i.e., they don’t scroll down when consuming online content. Don’t bury key messages — make your most important points early on the page to ensure they are seen by the highest number of users.
- Eliminate unnecessary words. Web copy is concise and succinct. When you read through draft content, you can usually eliminate a handful of words to clean up the copy. Getting rid of unnecessary words makes copy crisper, more concise and easier for users to digest.
- Understand what you want the user to do next. Effective web content motivates the user to take the all-important next step. The next step could be downloading a content asset, requesting a demo, going deeper into the site for more information or other steps that move the user along the buyer journey. Craft your content and Calls to Action (CTAs) in a way that makes it easy for the user to understand what comes next.
- Consider SEO — but don’t be straight-jacketed by keywords. Search engine optimization (SEO) helps drive organic search traffic to your webpage. Although keywords matter, Google and other search engines place a high value on content that is useful, relevant and informative. No keyword stuffing!
- Collaborate with design. In the digital universe, copy and design work together to communicate key messages and incentivize users to action. Copywriters need to work closely with design throughout the content development and creation process. At a minimum, writers should have visibility to wireframes before they start writing copy.
- Remain consistent. When it comes to format, voice, tone and style, users don’t typically like surprises. Once they pick up on the “rules” of your content, it will help them quickly navigate and absorb information throughout the site.
- In headlines, make your point quickly and succinctly. Often, just naming the service or industry is enough in H1 headings. For sub-heads (H2 headings), sum up the purpose of the content it’s introducing as clearly as possible.
Like everything, these digital content best practices will no doubt evolve as new platforms, technologies and user behaviors emerge.