When Writing Bad is Good
For about 25 years I’ve been writing professional sales, editorial, and promotional copy for businesses and clients like you. And I’m good!
But when I starting writing for the Web, I quickly learned that this medium involved a whole new way of working with words and that some of my good English writing skills had to be thrown out of the window. This realization almost killed me!
OK, not literally, but you know what I mean. It came as a real shock.
So I spent time working with and learning from some of the most knowledgeable search engine optimization pros in the country. They instilled within me an understanding of this interesting new world and I’m happy to share a few of the most critical things I learned with you today:
#1. Write to be read now. Unlike a printed piece that might be put down and picked up at a later date, if a person is going to read your web copy, they’re most likely to read it now – or never.
So, the Web is not the place for overly expressive language or poetic prose. And, because research suggests that people spend only a few short minutes on each site they visit, the smart web writer will get to the point quickly and communicate in short, easy to understand sentences.
In artist terms, it means that we should draw a stick man and not a detailed a portrait. Do you get the picture? (Pun intended!)
As I write, I try to always keep in my mind that the reader’s next web site is a mere click away and I recognize that clicking away is a right Web readers use quite liberally. (I know I do, don’t you?)
#2. Write as if you know me. Web writing should be as warm and personal as possible. Use the word “you” as much as possible, and craft a message that meets the readers’ needs and solves their problems. This certainly applies to offline writing as well, but on the web it is even more important because the immediate competition is fiercer.
#3. Write to be found. In the beginning, it was somewhat difficult for me to understand this concept, but it is absolutely critical to effective web writing.
The way I look at it, I’m writing for the search engines (Google, Yahoo, Ask, etc) almost as much as I’m writing for my human audience. Let me explain.
Once you establish the list of key words you want affiliated with your site, it is extremely important that you use them as often as possible and that you place them in strategic positions on your web page. Doing so will maximize your chances of being recognized by search engines and, in turn, found by your prospective customers.
This “rule” sometimes overrides my desire to write things a certain way and I find myself re-writing what I think is great copy to appease these invisible, but oh so powerful search engine audiences.
Said another way: Sometimes it’s good to write bad.
Write differently. Because the Web is such a fluid method of communication, it provides the perfect environment for crawling out of your box and doing something daring and different! Here’s where you can take a chance and write about something you might not put in print.
Make an offer you’re not quite sure about or state an opinion that may be unpopular. And do so freely, realizing that if your audience doesn’t like it, you’ll hear about it soon and can replace that content with something a bit more palatable.
Today, most businesses have some sort of Web presence and that’s great! But unless you’re carefully selecting the words you use and how you use them, you may not be getting your money’s worth. Read the research or partner with a professional who can help ensure that your Web words work hard for you.
Have a question for Gail? Ask or leave a comment below!