Web Content Writing: 10 Misconceptions

1. More words, detail, information explains best

Web content writing has its own format that is different from the conventional writing style we all learned in school. It’s focus is winning and maintaining the attention of the impatient Web reader.

Big, chunky paragraphs of 50 to 80+ words may cover a lot of subjects and detail but they tax the reader’s attention span. That’s because  online readers “skim and scan” websites-blogs text quickly, seeking out what is of interest.

Of note, screens are read 25% slower than printed text so efficient, meaningful writing is vital. Studies show a 62% increase in readability if the text is written in concise fashion. (Source: Nielsen Norman Group.)

Not determining which details are best left out leads to information overload as Web readers are notoriously impatient. A home page, in particular, has 10 seconds to capture interest. (Source: Nielsen Norman Group). So, if points aren’t covered in efficient fashion or at all, or if the passage is too muddy (too many commas – or too few, ramble-on sentences) readers click elsewhere.

2) Fewer words equates to lower web content writing fees

On the Web, it’s quality over quantity, due to the impatience factor. Writing concisely, also known as ‘Web-style,’ is a time-consuming process as word economy is the priority. The most appropriate words and headings serve to capture the reader’s attention and guide them through the site towards the ultimate goal: a reader contacting the company, organization, or client.

A finished Website represents all discussions-interviews and research. Words must literally “fight” to remain on the page. Less is more. Web pages with 300 words on them are actually worth about 700-800 words written in conventional style.

“Sorry for the letter, I didn’t have time to write a postcard.”

George Bernard Shaw

3. “I’m a good writer” or “We’ll write our site-blog post ourselves.”

With the best of intentions, people set out to get their website done quickly and inexpensively. However, since they were trained in school-taught conventional style, the text will not be formatted properly.

Other common mistakes waste valuable attention such as:

  • Well-meaning salutations like “Welcome to our site”
  • Frequent mentions of the company name (called a company-centric approach), and
  • Numerical listings of services and vehicles instead of identifying what customer problems are solved

If the site is written by the website owner, they are often too close to the subject matter to be objective. They may end up telling a story instead of making a business case for a reader’s attention and possible purchase.

Website or digital agency copywriters have better writers; however, unless the proper type of research (market-company) and thinking is done, their work will lack specifics. The client company will be described but not defined.

4. “Lifting” or borrowing text from other sites is fine

‘Forgetting, briefly, that doing so infringes upon copyright laws, ‘transplanted’ text gives your writing and the site an uneven feel, which creates mistrust. All sites have personalities, as defined by their voice (words and style). Mixing in different styles distracts the reader and slows down comprehension.

Oh and …..then there’s what search engines think of “duplicate content”: they don’t like it one bit and will penalize the content thief by banishing that site from its listings for ….a while. Meaning, your site won’t be found on Google search – and likely other search engines’ listings.  

Finally, if anyone discovers duplicate content or copied text on your site, your company’s reputation will take a hit. Is it worth it? No.

5. Search engine optimization (SEO): just for larger companies?

Your website resides on the Web but unless it is catalogued to be found by search engines such as Google and Yahoo, it won’t be. ‘Just like a book with “call letters” inscribed on its spine, a website or blog post must be described in certain ways to be found. This is called optimization.

There’s on-page and off-page optimization. On-page refers to what can be done to specific web pages to be more readily found. Off-page refers to what can be done on the Web to increase find-ability.

Some degree of optimization is critical; otherwise, unless your site address is specifically typed into the address bar, it floats – unknown – in the Web space of billions of sites.

If a good effort and money is spent on search engine optimization (SEO), your site will get ranked in Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc. search engine ranking pages (SERP). And by that, I mean on page 1 or page 2 where people usually focus their time. Result: your chances of getting Internet-sourced leads rises exponentially.

At the very least, websites and their pages should have Meta Tags such as Title and Description.

Giving each page a (Meta) Title communicates what the page is called and what type of content will be found on it. The (Meta) Description of each page or blog post describes the subject matter or purpose of the page.

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6. Writing is writing, regardless of writer’s experience or background

Good web content writing requires: 1) Superior thinking skills, and 2) Working knowledge of sales and marketing.

Ideas, analysis, debating, decisions

Of the former, Web content writing guru Gerry McGovern says:

“You can’t have great Web content writing without great thinking. Content is really thinking written down. Thinking involves questions such as: What do I want readers to do with this content? Read it, believe it, trust it, download it or refer to a link. Who is the audience or who is it for? What’s the best way to write about it?”

Killer Web Content, 2006

All these questions require consideration which cannot be rushed. In a hurry? Count on having to get a 2nd site or blog post done and having to spend a lot more money to produce it.

If you’re considering a web content writer, check their past work and review the thinking processes outlined above.

On the sales and marketing front, working knowledge will be illustrated by: intelligent business questions; having a writing process; and awareness of what these terms mean: value proposition, value-adds, differentiators, benefit statements, features vs. benefits.

All of these figure into the business web content writing. Sales and marketing experience would provide an understanding of marketing principles and a critical appraisal of features-benefits, and drawbacks of a product-service. And an understanding of how to overcome possible negative perceptions.

Errors in thinking, oversights, and ignorance of business priorities, from a customer’s perspective, decreases trust. In short, if the client isn’t being asked business questions, they won’t be getting business writing.

In closing, effective business web content writing engages your audience, defines your value proposition, builds trust, supports your price, and promotes your service.

7) Website-blog must be designed first

Because web design is a skill yet unknown to the majority of people, it’s intimidating. Which is why web design is often given priority and it is often done first before the words are even considered.

The drawbacks to this approach are numerous:

  • Content creation requires research and brainstorming where many ideas are dreamt up, discarded, kept, refined – then adapted. Approaches to the subjects require thinking, analysis, debating and finally, decision-making
  • If and when the content is finished, it may have to be modified; however, if the website shell is already completed, the words may not fit into the space provided
  • Efforts to reduce word count may rob the sentences of meaning
  • Re-coding may have to be done to deal with updated approaches (photos, written work, new products-services, etc.) and the site’s design may “break” in the process.

Remember: the coding represents the site’s structure and whatever fits inside the spaces provided. For all these reasons, the writing of the text-content gets done first. There’s also the content strategy to consider, as in what goes on what page, how it’s handled and why.

A site’s design and colours enhances your marketing message but does not express it. Best thing to do? Sit down with a marketing-savvy content-copywriter and discuss your company, marketing plan, and Web ambitions – before the web design work is done.

8) Web content writing should just answer questions

Some people aren’t exactly sure what they’re looking for when they arrive at your site; they seek direction. Your site should be organized in a manner that mimics how your prospective customers think and provide the type of information they’re interested in.

Newsletters, blog articles discussing applications for your products and services, situational and/or customer histories, case studies, etc. provide helpful context. People gain a more accurate perspective of your company – and why they should buy from you.

9) Writing with the company’s interests in mind sells the company

On the Internet, the site visitor, or sales prospect, is the one being catered to. A promotional writing style that praises your company may work for brochures or proposals, but it alienates Internet audiences. A flat, informative style that obeys Internet content rules and directs the user works best.

People come to web sites to learn something and aren’t certain of your motives, thinking style, or ability to communicate. Using a promotional will style creates cynical mistrust and readers will likely click away. In general, people are saturated with advertising. When they arrive at a web site, blog, etc., their expectations are explicit and impatient in nature.

10) Write the once and the it’s done forever!

Imagine you’re operating a 24-7 store on a competitive block or at a busy mall with lots of choice, where customers are fickle and demanding. Would your window displays remain the same for months? Doubtful; you’d soon realize that variety and novelty generate interest and engagement. Your site runs along the same principle, only the “attraction” is the content (words, photos, videos, downloads, blog posts).

Regular updates driven by an agreed-upon content strategy reinforce that your company is a going concern, encouraging additional visits. Plus, when your product line gets an upgrade, you’ll want to showcase it somewhere on your site.

Do yourself a favour and spend the time and money to hire a professional web copywriter and/or content writer. A consistent writing style authored by the same person gives your site an identifiable voice-personality.

Providing this person understands your target market and how to create an appropriate tone, etc. visitors will understand your value proposition (reasons why people would choose your company over another even though your products and services are similar) and remain on-site longer. Result: Your words get read and your return-on-investment (ROI) is stronger.