Writing for the Web
8 Tips to Write for the Web
Ah the life of a Muddy Editor. One minute you’re thumbing through Instagram working on the next feature and the next, you’re blinking in the stage lights of your old school’s theatre.
So I found myself giving a talk on social media and writing for the web, kindly hosted by Farleigh Tree, with not a smidgeon of dutch courage to help me through — wine and public speaking, not a happy combination I’m told.
Anyway, big, big thanks to Laura Turner, owner of Hero in Stockbridge, and Nancy Judge, who heads up social and PR for Hampshire Fare; couldn’t have done it without you ladies and, of course, Eleanor Marsden, Farleigh’s Director of Development and all round whirling dervish of organised enthusiasm.
For anyone with a case of FOMO, erm fear not. From Instagram to blogging, if you want to produce sparky, engaging online copy, here are the 8 points to follow.
Writing for the Web
In this brave new world of vlogging and image driven content, words still matter.
Catching readers’ attention amongst the tsunami of words & images — moving or static — spewed out by this beast we call the Internet becomes tougher on a daily, nay hourly basis.
Simple though it sounds, one way to do this is by creating, tight, well-written, fun copy — both pithy sentences for Google searches, Facebook posts, Tweets and so on, AND longer prose for blog posts or website content. In fact, the former often signposts the latter.
The web is awash with sloppily written content and after decades of txting and thxing there’s a growing body of readers who appreciate well-written words, thanKS very much. And not just fuddy Gen Y’ers like myself.
Millenials, a.k.a the golden geese of content marketing, are in on the game. A recent feature in The Times, by an early, twenty-something female journalist, claimed that a well-written Tinder post is more attractive to her circle of friends than a face hotter than Brad Pitt, although the joys of Angelina’s ex will go straight over their heads (Point 2: Tailor Your Tone/Think About Your Audience).
Still, there’s no need to emulate a turgid, Victorian broadsheet, web copy does need to be fun, relevant, engaging… and well-written. Here’s how to do it:
No-one reads this ’til you’re ready. Grab a glass of wine, a cup of chamomile, meditate for five minutes — whatever works. This isn’t a thank-you letter to your fearsome Great Aunt so be yourself; spontaneity is catnip to online audiences. The important thing is to get the words down, you can mould it into a masterpiece later.
2/ Tailor your Tone
Consider your audience and your platform then change your writing style accordingly. Take these two slides, one written for Muddy Hants in an upbeat, jokey, ‘Muddy’ tone. The aim is to introduce my intelligent, discerning, fun-loving readers to The Mantique.
The second, written on my personal Insta feed, mary_malyon is quieter, more reflective. I use this space to indulge my love of nature, history and architecture, aiming to attract other users with similar interests.
A Brief Note on Instagram
One of the reasons I love this platform is that it is such a non-judgemental space; a great place to express exactly who you are and find like-minded people.
It’s also an example of how parallel to words, the ability to produce professional images and curate them in a balanced, beautiful gallery also stands out.
It’s also an effective space for businesses to build brand awareness but beware, users are put off by obvious advertising.
Laura Turner talks about Hero’s feed which is a fantastic example of how a business can use Insta to gently and honestly project its lifestyle, naturally attracting and engaging with followers who might be potential customers.
This is done by sharing well-composed, strategic images, on a regular basis, that reflect common ground with these followers (fashion, coffee and cake anyone?) and liking and commenting on their posts as well.
It’s a very different marketing strategy with a real focus on building community as opposed to the the constant, one-way promotion traditionally employed by businesses.
3/ Rip it Apart
Back to writing. Finished your rough copy? Now let’s rip it apart. Chop sentences, be brutal. Look at:
- Rhetorical questions. They can be used to create shorter, snappier phrases (as above) but often make sentences painfully long. If this is the case, ditch them.
- Joining words: “that’ve been”. In the bin.
- Be direct. For example, “seventies-style flares”. No need for “style”. In fact, flares are so iconic that they need no introduction. Of-course, this depends on your audience — young Millenials and children might need more explanation.
4/ Clichés: the ‘devils’ spawn’ of good writing
- Up your street
- Gathering dust
- Cup of tea
Delete. Delete. Delete. Either replace them with the sentence’s actual meaning, or you could play with a cliché in a knowing way. So:
- A rolex watch hidden in Granny’s attic could be: “choking under a century of gold-dust.”
- Or “Waitrose isn’t my cup of lapsang souchong.”
5/ Sub like The Dalai Lama
The great Buddhist once said: first know the rules, then break them. There’s a huge difference between a casual tone with tight grammar and proper sentences and sloppy writing. It’s off-putting to the well-educated, influential readership that we want to engage with online *wags finger, pushes glasses up nose*. Flip that on its head: well-written content gives a brand kudos. If you’re unsure, learn about semi-colons, colons, the difference between and en- and em— (clue em dash is an online writer’s friends).
6/ Headlines: economy is elegant
…. it was ever thus, and with smaller, smartphones screens titles need to be even shorter and snappier. Compare and contrast these two different headlines from the same feature:
7/ Sleep on It: Magic Happens in the Morning
Truly. You find yourself struggling with a phrase or unsure of where to cut a post, but after a good snooze it all becomes clear. I’m not suggesting you do this for every Facebook intro or Instagram caption, but it’s worth bearing in mind for longer blog posts. Nancy shared some interesting tips on planning for social media. She schedules Hampshire Fare’s tweets using tweetdeck. If you do schedule social, it’s worth building in at least one night between writing and editing your work.
8/ Privacy — are you oversharing?
You don’t have to share every detail of your life, once it’s out there though it’s hard to delete especially if you don’t have direct control of the site or social media account that you’re writing for. This is even more true for images. That said don’t be afraid, lots of very successful bloggers share intimate details of their lives, Mother Pukka, Hurrah for Gin! and many more, but believe me this will still be done in a careful, considered way. So again, sleep on it.
Oh and step away from social when tipsy. In vino too much veritas.