WRITING FOR THE WEB
Writing for the internet is about capturing your readers’ attention and using straightforward, clear language, argues Reed Words
Online writing has its own set of considerations, says Reed Words
Behold the online age: where the old rules are toppled and no area of human activity is left untransformed – be it travelling, shopping, cat watching or copywriting. Yes, copywriting.
‘Writing for the web’ is sometimes talked about as if it were a unique discipline; a dark art. It’s full of arcane terms like ‘link building’ and ‘white hats’ and is governed by rules like: “Everyone has a short attention span these days, so whatever you’re going to say, spit it out.”
We think the principles of good writing stay the same, whatever the medium. What’s different about the web is how much more a copywriter has to worry about.
When you’re writing copy to go on, say, a beer mat, the relationship between your words and your reader is pretty straightforward. They want somewhere to put their drink, you want them to remember your brand. So you focus on making your copy smart, bright and fun.
Writing for the web is different because when your readers are online, there are a hundred other things vying for their attention.
The likes of Buzzfeed found a way to solve this problem long ago. Their writers are masters of grabbing readers – using headlines such as ‘Can You Ace This Incredibly Basic Geography Quiz?’ and ‘18 Ways You’re Cooking Chinese Food Wrong’.
These tricks are now pretty ubiquitous, and that’s because they work. But if getting your readers’ attention is one worry, keeping it is an even bigger one, especially if you’re asking them to do something less fun than reading Buzzfeed.
For instance, take our work with BetterMed – a start-up transforming healthcare finance in the US. When people use BetterMed, they’re making a really important decision about their health (and finances). And that’s why we wrote our application form in everyday, easy-to-follow language. Instead of asking users to ‘enter your required medical procedure,’ we asked them to finish a sentence beginning with ‘I need...’
Of course, most of the time copywriters don’t just want to keep a reader’s attention or make a form simpler – we want them to act, too. And sometimes we want them to do something complicated. This is when clear language and easy steps are especially important. For example, when we wrote the website for Bulb, a new renewable energy supplier, we made switching energy supplier easy. With just three simple steps, the reader was on their way.
Good writing has always been about making things more informative, more engaging and easier to use. But when you’re writing for the web in the digital age, there’s no margin for error because distraction is only ever just a click away.
Reed Words focuses on simple language with copy for the websites of Bulb (above) and BetterMed (right).