If I've seen it once, I've seen it one hundred times, plus a few more: people who normally write print publications mistakenly believe that writing online is the same thing.
They get to work laying out their posts as though they were feature length articles. They ignore the fiddly bits that WordPress offers, like the bullet points, the bold-faced font, the linking, and instead treat it like a print publication with black text on a white background, minimal images, and lengthy paragraphs.
But it's not.
Writing online brings its own unique set of frustrations and triumphs.
Online Writing is Different
For a start, writing online normally follows a different sort of style. Paragraphs are chunked up into easily digestible bites. Online readers are scanners. These online consumers don't approach a blog about productivity or travel or parenting expecting it to look like a book so don't write it like one.
They aren't expecting it to look like a printed newspaper either. Your blog doesn't have to stick to the facts and only the facts, ma'am. It can have personality. It can include your opinion, color, and be expressive. You can include what you think about an experience or how it affected you. Images aren't saved for the front page either because, spoiler alert, there isn't really a front page. Sure, there's a home page but you can't put everything under the sun on it or you risk it looking like the online project of a middle schooler.
Maybe you take great photos or maybe you don’t. Either way, images are important. Including even one image, whether you shot it yourself or found it at a stock photo company, can help keep people on the page, and give them a better sense of who you are, what you are about, and what to expect. Search engines are fans of images too.
Make it Personal
What can you do to keep your online writing online friendly? Your online writing, much like your blog, should be personal.
Remember that you get to own your content. You no longer must jump through someone else's hoops. No one is going over your work with a mean red pen and taking all your words and your style and making it their own.
Going through the hard work of writing and editing your words just to have it end up looking like someone else's (because it kind of is then, isn't it?) --well, it sucks.
But online and on your site? Everything you write is your own--and can reflect your opinion. In fact, everything you write gets to have your name on it.
Doesn't that sound like fun?
Online Writing Pointers and Advice
When you write for a print publication, you mention the source and move on. When you write online, you don't just mention a source, you link to it.
Unlike far too many major news sites, linking to other websites isn't just a nice thing to do, it's encouraged. Tag bloggers and other sites where they live, you know, on their websites.
When you reference a source, or call out a blogger or writer you admire, link to their site.
It doesn't hurt your site one bit. In fact, external linking, as it is formally called, is a good thing in the eyes of Google. Spammy sites don't link to others. Helpful, trustworthy sites DO. It encourages relationships and helps your readers out. In other words, it is a "win" all-around.
While you may have been used to writing content for a local, regional, or national readership, online writing, especially if you are just getting started, is going to differ here too. You should know who you are writing for. Who do you expect to read your content?
Unfortunately, it isn't going to resonate with everyone. Wouldn't that be nice if it did? The web is a noisy place. You need to think about who will find your work valuable and beneficial and write for them.
If you write about a specific type of topic, your message should be geared toward that audience. Consider this: I write about Indiana town and city travel on Little Indiana.com. If I decided to start writing about cruises and traveling California, it wouldn't make sense.
My readers would be angry, some would consider me a sellout (writing about destinations that don't apply just to get free travel), and my once highly focused site would become a mess. People interested in Indiana would be confused as to why there was content from other states or destinations on there and someone hopping on for the first time wouldn't have a clue as to what to expect.
They wouldn't know if the site was focused on Indiana or if it switched to a different subject.
Rather than risk following or subscribing to something that may or may not apply, that reader would move on to a different site in search of what they wanted.
It happens all the time--especially when sites start gaining freebie items in exchange for a post. You don't want to fall into that trap. Otherwise all of that hard work will be for nothing and you'd likely have to restart the whole thing.
Know what you want to write about, decide what topics you will cover, and stick to it. If you do, you will keep adding content that will grow your readership and help you gain fans/followers/subscribers because they care about what you say.
Look at these easy, peasy tips to help you escape print publication writing and get to online writing like a pro.
- Bullet Points: Mixing bullet points into a post provides an attention-grabbing break. When you have multiple things to write about a topic, bullet points simplify your big idea, turning it into easy to digest chunks. Keep them short and sweet for maximum impact.
- Internal Links: Don’t make your blog post a dead end. Articles on your blog should be linking to each other. Encourage your readers to consume more content by adding in links to related content already published on your site. It’s a win/win for both of you. If you have an article about “What to Pack on Caribbean Cruises,” then it would make sense to link up related keywords to relevant articles, like something about a first-time cruise to the Caribbean or the best Caribbean ports. Your reader gets to learn more about the topic they are already interested in and you get to keep them on your site longer, hopefully converting them into a newsletter subscriber and social media fan. You can find your ranking keywords in Google with “site:www.yoursite.com [keyword]” to find your highest ranked related posts. Those are the posts that you should consider interlinking. There are other tools, like linkcounter.submitexpress.com and UberSuggest.org that can help you better understand where you stand with your links.
- External Links: It’s not just about what you know, did, or saw. If you discover a fabulous resource or related content on another site, then link to it. Far too many bloggers, media, and even large companies don’t link out to others. Linking to others helps Google better understand your own site. Your readers will enjoy the extra resource and will learn that they can depend on you to help them find the answers they seek, while the author of the other site will appreciate the link. If you reference another blogger, link to him or her. Then, tag them on the network where they live. If they are more active on Twitter over Facebook, be sure to “@” tag them with their username. There’s a chance they could retweet or mention your post.
- Bold Faced Text: Highlight your main points to draw a reader’s attention to them by putting them in bold face type. Bonus: if it’s also linked, it may help entice a click. Just make sure that you are linking to related content elsewhere on your site.
- Caption those Images: We’ve covered image formatting before, but it is so important, it bears a recap. What do you do when you see an image on a website? You read the caption to learn more about it. Your readers are doing the same thing. Use a “deep” caption to add more information, writing somewhere around two to three sentences about the image. People stick around longer when there’s something they want to read—and studies show they can’t resist an image caption.
- Headings and Subheadings: Headings and subheadings may seem intimidating but they do serve an important purpose. These “mini titles” clue your readers in on the content to follow, drawing them in to stick around and engage. It helps users get to where they want to go and let them see what’s ahead. Not only are they useful on the reader side of things, but they can help improve your SEO. They give search engines a better clue as to what your page is about and help it to rank accordingly. They also serve as a reminder to help guide your writing when you first begin planning your post. While you may end up tweaking the wording as you write your content, they can be a helpful nudge.
Online writing isn't difficult. It’s all about changing your former print writing habits. Just remember your audience, chunk it up, link out, and make it personal. This is your site, after all. It's where the fun begins.