Writ­ing for the in­ter­net is about cap­tur­ing your read­ers’ at­ten­tion and us­ing straight­for­ward, clear lan­guage, ar­gues Reed Words

Computer Arts - - Contents -

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).

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