The content marketing guide to writing for the web: steps one to seven

By Jon Bernstein

Next month, I will be running a writing course aimed specifically at those embarking on, managing or contributing to content marketing projects. Writing for the Web: the insider’s guide for content marketers is designed to show you how to write to get noticed, how to engage with a target audience, how to structure a perfectly pitched thought leadership article, how to establish a successful blogging persona and how to write headlines that work online. And much more besides.

Among the lessons to take away from the day are these:

1. Keep the language simple

Also known as the ‘Why use utilise when you can use use?’ rule. The role of the writer is to simplify the complex not to show off an extensive vocabulary.

2. Understand your audience

Unless you know who your are writing for, you can’t write effectively. Spend time getting under the skin of the ideal reader/customer/client and then commission and write with that person in mind. Developing detailed personas is a useful exercise for those looking to understand their core audience.

3. Establish a tone of voice. And stick to it

Whether it’s ‘chatty, conversational and generous’, ‘provocative and caustic’ or somewhere in between – ‘confident, authoritative and straightforward’, perhaps – spend time identifying a writing tone that matches the brand. Then stick to it. Remember, consistency is an implicit signal of trust.

4. Remember web behaviour informs writing

How people get to your website, what time of day (or day of the week) they visit and how they behave when they get there all inform how you should write and present what you write. It means, for example, that you shouldn’t obsess about the homepage, you should rethink the value of weekends, and you should think about making content as easy to scan as possible.

5. Think structure: introducing the Inverted Pyramid

The Inverted Pyramid is a well established model for writing stories. It demands that the writer leads with the most newsworthy, followed by important details and the more dispensable general information and background. This template imposes a discipline, produces better headlines and ensures you are not wasting the reader’s time.

6. Think structure: introducing the ‘atomised’ Inverted Pyramid

While the Inverted Pyramid works for most forms of web writing, the digitally native blog post demands something different. Blog posts work best when the author is making a single point, sharing a single anecdote, insight or opinion. All of which means being prepared to break apart the conventional story structure.

7. All headlines matter. Online headlines matter most

The craft of headline writing should appeal to the copywriter in all of us. Online, it is a wholly meritocratic process – if people click, you’ve succeeded, if people don’t, you’ve failed. That doesn’t mean over selling and under delivering. It means combining the wit (both meanings of the word) of print with a touch of digital pragmatism.

There’ll be plenty of opportunities to hone those headline writing skills on the course

(Picture credit: Dwayne Bent / Flickr. Used under creative commons licence)