One of the first questions I often ask my clients or workshop attendees is: “Why are you writing for the web?” Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? You’d be surprised how often that question throws people for a loop, especially when they realize that writing for the web isn’t as simple as they think.
Writing for the web is vastly different from writing for a print publication. Just as one example, say you have a print subscription to Writer’s Digest and you come across a really good article about editing. Fast-forward a month or two. A friend of yours is interested in the article after hearing you mention it, but she can’t find a physical copy of the magazine. Now you have to dig through your files, grab your copy and hand it to her.
Pause for a moment and think about how you stumble across that same article about editing online. There are several ways you could find it; keyword searches, direct website visit, link through e-mail or social media, etc. While some elements between the two mediums overlap, anything you post online is more accessible and sharable over longer periods of time than whatever you might do in print. This changes how content is written and published in several ways.
The shifting nature of your computer screen also has an effect on your writing. Would you read a long article on your screen? Most people don’t. While the average length of time on one web page depends upon the website, web analytics data often shows that most people spend less than fifteen seconds on one page. A savvy publisher would break up a longer article into a series and publish them as short pieces over a period of time to accommodate a reader’s short attention span. Another publisher might turn that same article into a downloadable e-book as “bonus” content to draw new readers. The minute a publisher starts thinking about what actions a reader can take when they visit their website, they are looking at a metric called “conversion.” Many publications might offer similar content, but the physical structure of the page could be vastly different from one website to another depending on their goals.
Most people and businesses have no idea why they’re online; they know that it’s important, but they don’t have that other piece to the puzzle so they often wing it.
Writing for the Web, Questions to ask yourself.
- Are you informing or entertaining?
- Are you giving people the chance to act?
- Trying to attract more readers?
- If so, why?
- Build awareness?
- Do you want to rank for keywords using search engine optimization (SEO)?
- To sell books?
Most people agree with me when I tell them that they need to have a plan. However, there have been a few that complained about how complicated it is and how much time it’ll take to create one. Yes, coming up with a strategy about why you write and publish online will take a little bit of work upfront. Once you do, though, your writing will be a lot easier over the long haul and you’ll be able to grow in the direction that you want to. What’s more, when you review your web analytics, you’ll be able to “prove” how well you reached your goals, too.
So the next time you’re working on a blog post, updating Twitter or writing an article, ask yourself the tough question. Why? Because at the end of the day, it’s not only your words that are at stake, it’s your online persona and career, too.
MONICA VALENTINELLI is a professional author, game designer and consultant. Described as a “force of nature” by her peers, Monica is best known for her work in the horror, dark fantasy and dark science fiction genres. She has been published through Abstract Nova Press, Eden Studios, White Wolf Publishing, Apex Magazine and others.
Over the past six years, Monica has worked as an analyst, content and web analytics manager, ghostwriter and copywriter for high-profile websites and retailers on the web. Recent clients include Crackle.com and Webstix.com. In addition to her writing efforts, she is also the project manager for horror and dark fantasy webzine FlamesRising.com.
For more information about Monica, visit www.mlvwrites.com.