Web Content – Just the Facts

Staring at a Blank Screen

We work with a lot of clients on projects for the web – web sites, email newsletter campaigns, blogs, social media, etc.  – and content is always a main concern.

Content is important – some say it continues to reign as king.  Unfortunately, not all organizations have a solid understanding of how to write for the web. So, we’ve assembled some of our consultative tips from past projects to serve as a guide for you.

Web Content Dos and Don’ts

When writing for the web, there are some basic dos and don’ts. They are straightforward and apply across the board…

What works in web content?

  1. Simple statements, to the point
  2. Direct language using keywords or targeted terms
  3. Headlines, lists, short paragraphs
  4. Topic -> Overview Details -> Call to Action

What DOESN’T work in web content?

  1. Long-winded flowery prose
  2. “25 Cent Words”, complex sentences
  3. Long paragraphs
  4. No clear definition of sections, i.e. no headings…
  5. No clear beginning, middle or end

Planning

Good content needs a plan. Successful content plans start with one or more of the following:

  1. Identify goals or desired outcomes first
  2. Host a brainstorming session with stakeholders
  3. Identify what CopyBlogger.com calls the MAP… (Medium, Audience, Purpose)

If you work through these pieces first, writing your content will go much smoother and the outcome will yield much better results.

Writing for a Web Site

Bottom Up Writing

Our past Wood Street Journal entry called Organize Your Web Site’s Message from the Bottom Up talks about a different approach to writing content for the web. Here are the steps:

  1. Identify your goals
  2. Assemble the detailed content, white papers, articles, etc.
  3. Match areas of your detailed content with your goals (this requires a whiteboard or highlighter)
  4. The content/themes that appear over & over will constitute your top-tier content (homepage, main landing pages, etc.)

The purpose of this method is to get to the content that will drive your audience to your desired action. By writing “in reverse” you are able to better organize your message and its outcome.

Writing for Search Engines

We have written several articles on this topic. We’ve coached several clients, spoken about it on radio shows and given numerous seminars on SEO and content marketing.  Yes, it is that important.

Please check our SEO and content marketing posts for more on this subject. For the purposes of this article, I am going to give you the basics. When writing for search engine visibility, make sure you work through the following:

  1. Survey your clients, partners, etc to identify targeted keywords/phrases (the words people use in search engines to find you)
  2. Refine your keyword list to about 15 phrases (post it somewhere visible, tack it to the wall where you write)
  3. In your code/content focus on Page Titles, Headings, Ordered/Unordered Lists, Content, ALT Attributes
  4. Make sure your content is audited for keyword density in the code and in the content (an SEO expert is advised here)
  5. Revise and repost, often

Writing to Achieve Goals

So you’ve organized your content from the bottom up and you’ve worked through an SEO strategy for your content, what else? Goals! Write your content so it drives the reader to an action, a goal.

How do you do this?

  1. Know your goals!  Are they attainable???
  2. Content in the top tiers should lead the reader to a goal
  3. Don’t get in your own way, get to the point
  4. Have someone outside your org edit/review your content, ask them what they were compelled to do if anything
  5. Review, revise, repost

If you follow these steps, you’ll be in a better position to achieve your goals. Make sure you map out your plan, have realistic expectations, and involve outside help where appropriate.

Writing a Blog

Writing blog content is definitely a different animal. Consider blogging to be journals, PR, newsletters, white papers and interactivity all rolled into one. This is your chance to be an expert and to interface with your audience on a targeted and effective level.

In order to write effectively for a blog you will need to do many of the things we’ve already discussed but in a slightly different way, such as:

  1. Know your audience, what will they read and react to?
  2. What are your goals and how do they relate to your other marketing content?
  3. Develop an editorial calendar to plan your blog topics in advance
  4. Keep your posts short and to the point – if they need to be lengthy, break them up into easily digested chunks (like this one)
  5. Be prepared, know who will manage and write for the blog, set a schedule
  6. Promote your Blog, listen to feedback, comment on comments

There are lots of resources on blogging. Here are a few we think are incredibly useful:

  1. Copyblogger.com
  2. Content Marketing Institute
  3. Our posts on content marketing
  4. Content Rules Book
  5. Content Code

Writing for an Email Newsletter

You may have heard that email is dead. Well, it’s not, not by a long shot. Email marketing has been proven to be a powerful marketing tool for businesses and organizations. And it dovetails perfectly into web and social media marketing campaigns.  You can even promote your blog with an email newsletter, like we do.

It will require some planning and finesse. Writing for an email newsletter is tricky. When done well, it can produce some great results.

First, Your Email Distribution List…

  1. Who is on your list?
  2. How would you describe them? What’s their typical schedule?
  3. What is going to grab their attention?
  4. Where do your goals and their needs align?
  5. What might annoy them?

You must know these people and what their wants and needs are. Until you know them, how can you write to them? This is why a well constructed list of actual people you are targeting is much more effective than a list of randoms you’ve purchased from a service.

Email Content vs. Web Content

So, what is email newsletter content and what makes it different from web site content or blog content? Email content is quick, hyper targeted and must drive action.

When you write your email newsletter, think conversion.  What can you place in your headline and copy that will drive someone to read it and click for more?

You don’t want them sitting there reading all of your content in their Outlook or on their smartphone (mostly because they won’t). You want them on your site or on your blog (especially if you sell or advertise there).

Be brief. Strive to convert.  Here is a breakdown of how this can work:

  1. Write compelling headlines that grab attention
  2. Pay attention to the preheader (the brief line that shows in the email preview, place your article links here!)
  3. Keep the email content brief with links to long versions online
  4. Develop effective Landing Pages
  5. Post your full newsletter content on your blog or website
  6. You want them to scan the email then click to visit your website

Track Your Email Progress

An email newsletter campaign is completely worthless if it isn’t tracked and measured. If you are simply shooting out emails with no idea of what’s working and what isn’t, you’re missing the point.

Most email newsletter services offer stats (if yours doesn’t, switch). Some will let you incorporate Google Analytics, even better! With these stats you can…

  1. See what headlines were the most effective, which ones get the most opens/clicks
  2. Track what links were clicked the most
  3. Duplicate what works!

If you plan, track and adjust, you will succeed.  Here are some good resources for email marketing…

  1. MailChimp
  2. MediaPost
  3. AWeber

Writing for Social Media

Again, who are you talking to???

There is no shortage of advice on best practices for Social Media Marketing. It can be a bit overwhelming, confusing, and plain ridiculous. But, if you stick to the basics, you will see results. As with any type of marketing online, content is important.

Before you can start blasting out content on any given social network, you need to know who you are talking to. Do some research; are your clients, potential members, fans, etc. on these networks? Which ones? Ask them.

Engage!

Social Media Marketing is a bit different from the rest in that it is intended to be an ongoing conversation.  You need to be yourself (or a reasonable facsimile thereof).  In this conversation you will need to…

  1. Interact with friends/followers, be transparent and authentic
  2. Establish your voice, use a consistent style
  3. Give more than you take, be a trusted resource

Remember though that the same rules apply, just slightly modified…

  1. ADD thrives on Social media, write accordingly
  2. Have goals with each engagement
  3. Is it for fun? Are you promoting something? Is it both? What aligns itself best with your goals?
  4. Be consistent with your tone

Writing for Twitter

No, I’m not going to talk about the President and his Twitter habit. Real marketing is actually happening here. The problem with writing for Twitter is that you have 140 characters, that’s it!

You’ll need to be laser focused. Have a strategy and goals. A checklist of Twitter tasks could look something like this:

  1. Post links to useful articles
  2. Post links to your Blog
  3. Retweet with comments
  4. Post thoughts and commentary
  5. Use images and hashtags if they support the message.
  6. Be careful with abbreviations, cut out all unneeded words

Writing for Facebook

Yes, even marketing on Facebook requires a content strategy.  Similar to Twitter, you need to be brief.  You can write longer bits of content here. There is a lot of information for competing for attention so get to the point.

With that in mind, a strategy will help you be certain you aren’t getting lost in the sea of Facebook posts.  Here is a general overview of what a Facebook strategy could look like:

  1. Have a plan and an agenda, publish useful content
  2. Start a fan page and promote to clients, colleagues, etc.
  3. Build your fan numbers with valuable content

You can use a lot of these same tips for LinkedIn. There are plenty of other channels out there like Snapchat, Instagram, and on and on and on. Pay attention to the accounts that draw the type of audience you want. What are they doing that you could emulate.

Remember, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Reuse, repurpose, borrow. Be authentic and focus on being a resource for your target audience. You will see results.

Power tip: use a scheduling tool like Buffer or Hootsuite.

Let’s Review

Remember to Use What Works

Planning, strategy, testing, trial and error are all important.  Start with the basics and grow from there…

  1. Simple statements, to the point
  2. Research, plan and identify goals
  3. Direct language using keywords or targeted terms
  4. Use effective headlines, lists, short paragraphs
  5. Topic -> Overview Details -> Call to Action
  6. Be real, human, and helpful.

Jon-Mikel Bailey - Before co-founding Wood Street in 2002, Jon worked in sales, marketing and business development for technology and marketing firms. A popular speaker, he gives seminars on marketing, internet marketing, branding and web design to chambers of commerce, trade associations and colleges. He has a BFA in Photography from Frostburg State University and still shoots photos for Wood Street clients.

3 Responses to “Writing for Websites, Blogs, Email Newsletters and Social Media
  • Awesome piece, Jon. Thorough & comprehensive. I submitted an entry to your email.

    An idea: since this post is so good, contains lots of keyword-dense copy, nice SEO-optimized headlines, etc.

    You GOTTA change that title tag to be like “Web Content & Copywriting Guide – Writing For The Web”

    Just an idea from an old-school SEO hahah.

    -Chris M.

    Reply
  • Chris, great point. I plan to edit the title once the contest is over.

    Reply
  • Great information, Jon. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

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