We all know the difference between good writing and bad writing. Good writing speaks to us; it leaps from the page and forces us to stand to attention and listen to what it has to say. On the other hand, bad writing is flat, empty, and lacks any of the musicality that makes us want to read on.
Discerning what it is exactly that makes for good or bad writing is a lot trickier than simply judging it and can (ironically) be hard to put into words. But it can be done.
Whether it's dissecting poems, analysing novels, or deconstructing online copy, there is both a rhyme and a reason to working out why exactly some writing works and some does not.
We are going to look at how to craft the perfect website article and what it is that makes good online copywriting good and bad online copywriting bad.
The perfect website article has a clear intention and a defined target audience. It should expertly use structure, form, and language to achieve its intention through the best possible communication with the target audience.
So, what exactly makes for killer website content?
Well, let's jump in and take a look at some top tips you can use to crank your articles up a notch and take your copywriting to the next level.
Stick to the brief
Before you begin writing your website article, you should know what the overall objective of the piece is.
Perhaps it is to highlight a problem that your client has a solution for. Or maybe it is to inform the reader of a new product or service your client is developing. Or it might be to create a link-building campaign that takes readers from the website of a popular media outlet to your client's web page.
Whatever it is, your article has an objective, and you should either get or develop a brief that ensures the entirety of the article is focused on achieving that goal.
As well as the overall goal of the article, your brief should also include who the target audience is, how long the article should be, the tone of voice and style of the piece, any keywords that should be included, and anything else that will help you write the best possible article.
Some clients may include specific headings or bits of information they want to be in the piece. Make sure you include anything and everything they specify.
If you are working on behalf of a client and you are unsure about anything relating to the brief, don't hesitate to contact them for clarification.
Do your research
Anyone in the business of creating content and writing website articles (this writer included) will tell you that the research phase is vital for creating a solid foundation for writing the article properly.
You don't need to be a world expert on the topic, but you should spend a while reading other online material to ensure you have a solid grounding in the subject.
You should also research the layout, content, and angles of the top-ranking pages. While you don't want to plagiarise other people's writing, the top-ranking pages are top-ranked for a reason.
The research phase can also include meta-description and keyword research on search engines.
Don't overdo it in the research phase, as you want to leave yourself ample time to write, but the simple truth is; the more you research, the easier the writing will be.
Write for your target audience
We already looked at the importance of the content brief and how a key component of that is to know your target audience. So, once you know who your target audience is, make sure that your writing is geared towards them.
You need to know the kind of language that will resonate with your readership, the angles on the topic that will interest them, and what they want to get from reading your article.
So think about the language you use, the tone you adopt, the images you include, and how you address your readers.
Remember, your target audience is reading your article for a reason, and they will also stop reading it for a reason. You need to keep them engaged to ensure they don't simply switch off and move on.
Vary your sentence lengths
There is a modern propensity in the world of online writing to advocate short, staccato sentences for the sake of clarity and simplicity, but we think that, while short sentences are undoubtedly useful, the best option is to vary your sentence length with long, short, and medium-sized sentences throughout. Do you agree?
The above paragraph is an example of a long sentence followed by a short one. While the first sentence may be slightly too long, it is complemented by the short sentence that follows it. The variation creates a good balance that allows the paragraph to flow well and places a strong emphasis on the final, short rhetorical question.
Short sentences are useful. If done well, you can convey a lot in just a few words. But long sentences are also necessary and can be used to create a rhythm and a texture to your writing that makes reading it much more interesting than if it were just a collection of short, punchy sentences.
Keep your voice active
An active voice makes for succinct and direct writing. Take the following two sentences as an example:
- Services can be ordered on our website from today
- Order services on our website today
The second sentence is active, and the first is passive. The active voice has the subject of the sentence performing the action. The passive voice has the subject of the sentence receiving the action.
The active voice is far more direct and reader-friendly. It sounds as if you are talking directly to the reader, and it encourages them to engage with the writing.
Keep it simple
The internet is for everyone. Whether they have PhDs or haven't yet finished school, the beauty of the world wide web is that anyone can read your work. Although you need to keep your target audience in mind, you also want to keep your writing simple so that all readers (or potential customers) can get something from your work.
This means explaining any technical jargon, avoiding insider terms where possible, including links to other explanatory articles that can help the reader on their learning journey, and keeping your writing clear and concise.
If you are writing for a specific industry, remember that your writing may be read by newbies as well as seasoned professionals. So the general rule is an easy one to remember: the simpler, the better.
Use your words
You are a writer; words are your tool. The blank page is your canvas. So get creative!
While you should avoid being overly verbose, variety is key, and you should check that you aren't repeating the same few words throughout your piece to make yourself sound clever.
A simple way to do this is to copy and paste your writing into a word cloud. Word clouds show you how much you have used certain words by making those words the biggest in the cloud. If there is a word you have overused, look for some alternatives in a thesaurus or restructure some of the sentences to drop the words that have been repeated.
Similarly, if you notice that lots of negative words are standing out in your cloud, consider replacing them with some more positive ones. If your writing is littered with words like "can't," "wrong," and "don't," it's going to leave the reader feeling uninspired.
Your writing should be rousing and informative, and it should also be dexterous and exciting to read. Words are the key to this; use them wisely.
Put the most important and catchy information first
Internet surfers - by which we mean people in general - have notoriously short attention spans. Within just a few seconds, they will decide whether or not they will read your piece in its entirety, skim through it, or switch off altogether.
While you can keep some of your readers gripped with your brilliant writing skills, some are simply will zone out. But that doesn't mean they can't also get something from your work. It just means that you should put the most important and eye-catching information at the top of the article. You can go into greater detail as the article progresses, but you should cater to the fact that many of your readers won't make it all the way to the bottom of the page.
Some writers call this the 'inverted pyramid model,' as you have a large chunk of information at the top and gradually whittle it down as you progress.
For example, suppose you were writing an article about a new scientific discovery. In that case, you should put the basics of the discovery in the first few sentences, and later you can go into detail about the history of the study and the group that pioneered it.
Write a snappy headline and subheadings
There are literally billions (yes, billions) of websites online right now. You don't need us to tell you about how much variation there is amongst these sites, but we can safely assume that a good portion of these billions of sites have articles in one form or another on them. This means your website article needs to stand out as best it can in an ocean of website articles.
One of the best ways to do this is to have an eye-catching headline and subheadings to keep your readers wanting to read on.
Your headline should:
- use an active voice and strong verbs to capture your audience's attention
- include a benefit that your audience will get from reading your article
- use keywords that will help your article rank
You might also consider including numbers written as digits. For example, "The 7 Best SEO Tools." Readers enjoy lists, and they are also comforted in knowing that the article is only going to be so long.
Don't forget to link build
You want people to read your article; that is the main reason you wrote it in the first place. So how do you ensure that the most people possible will have the pleasure and delight of reading your finely carved words? Two words: build links.
Link-building is the process of inserting hyperlinks into your work that either connect to other pages on your site (internal link-building) or to pages on other sites (external link-building). Both forms of link-building are vital for your search engine optimisation (SEO).
We won't go into too much detail here about how to optimise your link profile and boost your search results, as we have other articles on that. Still, you should aim to include useful and relevant links that can help the reader progress in their learning and find out more details about subjects you don't have the time to delve into in your article. You should also try to only link to good-quality sites that are high-ranking and get a lot of web traffic.
Make your article skimmable
As we saw earlier, many of your readers are likely to click off your article before getting into the meat of it, some will stick it out to the end, but a large number (perhaps a majority) will skim their way through without taking in too much of the detail.
So how exactly do you make an article skimmable? Let's look at some tips:
- Bullet points are always a good start. They make your text much easier to navigate and break it up into simple, digestible chunks of information.
- Use more subheadings than you think you need.
- Include plenty of space around the text. A big lump of writing is off-putting to even the best readers. Pepper your article with images and (if you know the developer in charge of your page) keep a good amount of blank white space around the writing.
This brings us nicely to our next point, which is...
The human brain is largely visual. When you think that the written word has only existed for around 5,000 years, it makes sense that our biological makeup is still hard-wired to think the way it did prior to the creation of text.
For this reason, it is always a good idea to include images, graphs, and charts in your articles, as they are often easier to absorb and comprehend than thousands of words. There are plenty of sites, such as Canva, that can help you create exciting graphics related to your work.
Include a call to action
Remember that your whole article has a goal and objective. There is something you want your readers to take away at the end of the piece or wherever they leave it. The call to action is the time and the place to bring it home. It is the icing on the cake of the article.
It doesn't have to be a big gesture asking for bank details and a signature (though it can be, of course). It can be as simple as reminding the reader to use the information in the article to help them achieve their goals.
Your call to action is, in many ways, as important as your headline, but it is saved for the select few readers who have made it all the way to the end.
So there you have it, the recipe for crafting the perfect website article. While it is undoubtedly a process that can be daunting to begin with, once you get into the flow of the piece and you are familiar with all the tips and tricks that make for great copy, the words will begin to flow forth and, before you know it, you will have an expertly crafted article on your screen.
Follow our guide and tips when writing your next piece, and re-read this article just one more time. Does it work? If it does, then you have a great example of what to do and how to do it. If not, then take it as an example of what not to do. Either way, when you pen your next killer piece of content, you know exactly who to thank.