11 Simple Web Writing Tweaks To Improve Your Content

by Dean Evans

Day 79 - f o c u sThere are some best practice guidelines for web writing that everybody agrees on, some underlying rules that can be applied to everything that you write online.

And don’t just take our word for it. Take a look around the web – you’ll see the same core approach across thousands of websites. They include…

1. Write naturally
Try to use familiar words. This means avoiding jargon, tossing in unexplained abbreviations and mysterious acronyms. It also means trying to be conversational. Write like you speak and inject some personality into your articles. When you talk to your readers, use ‘you’.

2. Keep sentences short
Cut out unnecessary words. Do flowery phrases like this one really, truly add anything to the very core of the content that you’re producing? No. So slice them out.

3. Keep paragraphs compact
If a paragraph has got any more than three or four sentences in it then it’s probably too long. Cutting back chunks of text helps keep copy scannable and skimmable for the reader.

4. Use sub-headings to break up the text
These can not only highlight key sections of your text but provide extra ‘entry points’ into your copy for skim-readers. Subheadings can also be useful for summarising the key points of the article and as a secondary path through long articles.

5. Use bullet points for lists

  • Just.
  • Like.
  • This.

Or a numbered list:

  1. Like
  2. This

6. Emphasise key points
Use bold or CAPITAL LETTERS to highlight key points or important keywords.

7. Use blockquotes for quoted copy
Make your quotes stand out from the rest of your text by using the blockquote function in your Web Content Management System (WCMS).

8. Use images to add meaning
According to the old saying: “a picture is worth a thousand words”. By adding an image (the top-left position is considered the most effective placement), you can enhance the presentation of your articles and grab your reader’s attention.

9. Add extra links to add value for the reader
Always think of your reader first. What other information would they benefit from? What couldn’t you fit into your content that you can link out to? Is there any other content on your own blog or website that could be helpful? If so, link to that.

10. Use relevant keywords/keyphrases
Effective writing for the web is often referred to as SEO copywriting. This means that it’s ‘search engine-aware’. So ensure that you are using the keyword or longer keyphrase that describes and defines your content in the following places in your articles:

  • Headlines
  • A sub-heading
  • Meta description
  • Image caption
  • Image metadata
  • Tags

11. Be credible
You can do all of these things above but if you lack credibility then nobody is going to visit your website and listen to what you’ve got to say. Usability guru Jackob Nielsen has these thoughts on writing for the web:

We found that credibility is important for Web users, since it is unclear who is behind information on the Web and whether a page can be trusted. Credibility can be increased by high-quality graphics, good writing, and use of outbound hypertext links. Links to other sites show that the authors have done their homework and are not afraid to let readers visit other sites.

You can find more of his thoughts on the subject here.

That’s our top 11. If you need any help generating optimised web content, find out more about our writing for the web services. Or buy our web writing book – The Good Content Code.

Creative Commons License photo credit: margolove

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Salazar Snowcone October 14, 2012 at 5:12 pm

i dont think ur suggestions universally apply~ maybe if u r writing news or for some big corporation` u say to write naturally: then you contradict you’reself by saying not to use jargon* what if u r writing 4 a specific target audience^ if u r talking about web publishing+ for example& you expect your readers to have at least a basic understanding ov what html )or a hyperlink( is% n this might confuse outside folk some. now i wouldnot dun go n use some jargonspeak i know nothing of. u say to keep sentaences really, truly, completely, and absolutely short by keeping descriptive words to a minumum. but that kind of removes any feeling of poetic license. if Tolkien did that with `Lords of the Ring”, the books might have been only a mere five pages n been boring. u say to keep paragraphs down to a couple of sentences, but what if u have a lot to say about the topic of one sentence? y do u say to use bullet points when ur own list is numbered? why do u recommend emphasizing with CAPS? Isn’t that considered yelling? i agree with bold, thank you for not suggesting italics which are kind of ugly on screen. u say to use images to add meaning, should one, err, YOU use restraint? Why do you say to put the image in the top left when yours is on the right? i wuz gonna ask what makes that jacob guy a guru, but i looked him up and it turns out he is a smart guy, even has a Ph.P so ill let that one slide. i do not condone having a bunch of random links tho. nobody (and by nobody i mean me) wants to have to read another page, about the same topic, while reading a page about a topic. are there snowman in arizona? do it wikipedia style, cite ur sources at the bottom, or make the link very distinctive or an afterthought (well, i guess u kinda did).,. dont be afraid to give ur visitors a link to an informative site, but dont lose them mid-flight. some expert somewhere probably said they wont come back. I don’t know if he had a Ph.P tho. i dont, so i guess I am not credable. but at least i proofred this to the best ov my abilaty.

Anyway, I think I learned something from your site despite my skepticism on some of your recommendations.


Dean Evans October 15, 2012 at 8:12 am

Thanks for leaving a comment. The suggestions on this page aren’t universal or ‘hard and fast’ rules – every website is different. It ultimately depends on the audience. What works for the BBC won’t necessarily work for a small blog about cooking. Any jargon you use should be appropriate to your audience.

As for long sentences, when you’re writing for the web, shorter, more compact sentences and paragraphs tend to aid scanning. Reading online is considered to be less intense than reading print. People’s eyes wander. Again, take a look at Jakob Nielsen’s research for more info.

That’s not to say that you can’t write epic, lengthy sentences and paragraphs on a website. The approach works for Engadget. It all depends on your audience. If you have a lot to say, you don’t need to cram it into a long sentence.

Bold and CAPS are the best ways to emphasize key elements of a sentence. Using CAPS is only considered shouting if you use it in emails or text messages. And the ‘most effective placement’ for an image is considered to be the top left of a web page as it’s the first thing somebody sees when reading an article. Personally, I prefer either a full-width image (like this) or using a smaller one in the top-right.

Hope that answers some of your questions.


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