What's the big deal about writing for the web?

I'm often asked, "What's the big deal about writing for the web? Why shouldn't we use our regular writer, or put our brochure copy on the site?"

Of course you CAN do that, but if you want to get the most out of your web site, consider contracting the services of an experienced web copywriter. This will help to avoid common problems and delays, and ensure that your site is readable, functional and findable.

Having worked in a variety of roles in the internet industry since 1997, I've been involved in the development of specific styles and conventions for writing copy for the web. There are many factors that distinguish web copy from print or other copy, including:

Internet Technology: constantly changing

The web is still in its infancy; technological advances are happening almost daily, offering both constraints and opportunities. To keep up with the latest developments, I belong to specialist email lists for web editors and content managers, and use the web daily in every aspect of my life and work. I am able to advise on many technical issues and can quickly access further technical support and information when I need it.

Knowing HTML and having managed big and small site developments from start to finish means that I can communicate easily with developers on issues of structure, navigation and layout. Speaking directly to developers in their own language speeds up the process of formatting copy and avoids misunderstandings.

Your Audience: how well do you know them?

Your online audience may not be the exactly the same as your general target audience, and they may be accessing the site in particular circumstances. Before beginning to write your web copy, I work with you to identify who will be reading this information and where, and what their needs are.

In the early days of the internet, we talked about the "three-click rule" that assumed that users would give up if they didn't find what they wanted after three clicks. But more recent surveys indicate that users equate more clicks with more in-depth information, and that they will use the amount and types of links in assessing the quality of a site.

Inspiring confidence in your online audience is vital, and nothing is more off-putting than careless typos, grammatical errors, or copy that has obviously been cut and pasted from print material. It's very easy for users to leave your site.

Layout: what you see is not what they see

The web is a dynamic medium, unlike the fixed medium of print. When you publish a web page, many variables will affect the way your audience sees it, such as their computer platform, screen resolution, choice of browser, whether they are using a mobile phone, the fonts installed on their machine and the size of their browser window. The copy and design of a site need to work together to ensure the best possible result across these variables.

Reading a screen isn't the same as turning the pages of a book or magazine: people often don't read line by line or even word for word. Our eyes are distracted by the other elements on the page - images, navigation, headlines, advertising - so we tend to scan for relevant text. Headings, subheadings, links and bullet points can all act as hooks for the eye that guide the reader to key information, or - equally importantly - let them know that this isn't what they are looking for.

Style: make it work for you

As with any writing project, the style of the copy should reflect the nature of the subject - but there are also specific style standards on the web. The directness of the web allows for a more conversational tone than the same material in print. Friendly and readable copy can help to keep users at your site and inspire confidence in the information you are presenting.

I am familiar with the style of copy adopted by sites across many sectors, and will be able to position your site accordingly. I write web (and print) copy for large corporates, small businesses, educational institutions, youth and children's sites, arts organisations and government departments.

Metadata: invisible helpers

As well as the text you see on this page, there is text within the HTML code that serves specific functions. This "metadata" includes descriptions and keywords for search engines, and information for screen-reading software used by people with visual impairments. When writing your web copy, I also write the metadata in a style consistent with the actual page copy and ensure that the developers include it correctly.

Metadata is read by robots and spiders - automated programmes used by search engines and directories to index the millions of pages that make up the World Wide Web. Meaningful metadata that supports your copy is key to having your site found among the millions.

Updating: make it a living site

One of the huge advantages of the web over print is that copy can be instantly, fequently and easily updated at very little cost. It's important to consider from the beginning how this updating is going to be managed, as this may impact on how the copy is written. Will it be someone inhouse who needs to be trained, or an external contractor? Is an automated or semi-automated content management system an appropriate solution?

I am able to advise on these issues from the outset of the project, allowing for adequate research, planning and training so that once live, your web site continues to flourish. Regular updating will raise your site's ranking with search engines and encourage repeat visits.

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© Helen Varley Jamieson 1999-2019