Make your copy sing: 8 essential web writing tips and tricks

Earlier this year I was asked to prepare a workshop for a group of tourism businesses owners – “teach them a few of ways with words for the web” was the brief..

So here’s what I came up with, in two sentences:

  • 8 essential web writing tips including common writing mistakes to avoid
  • ideas on how to break up the text to make it web-friendly

You’ll find the tips below – I’ve kept it short and snappy because we’re all busy people. But even if you only apply a few of them to your copy they’ll make it instantly more professional.

PS Some of the changes you make to your copy your readers won’t even notice! In fact, if they read on without getting tripped up by typos, random capitalisation and grammatical errors then, as they used to say in the newsroom, “job’s a good’un”.

These tips are gleaned through my years of being a journalist and online writer….

Web writing tips – your essential 8 tips for starters

  • brevity – think about the fishmonger with the ‘Fresh Fish Sold Here’ sign. He could simply advertise ‘Fish’ – wouldn’t you hope it would be fresh? And sold where the sign says fish…
  • break up text – use bullet points / sub heads / white space to your advantage for easily scannable copy
  • cut out unnecessary / flowery  words & jargon – do towns ‘proudly boast of superb spaces’? I don’t think they do! Would you really say ‘in the vicinity of’ if you were speaking to a real person? Don’t take your writing cues from estate agents!
  • avoid tons of exclamation marks!! – you’re not a teenager writing to a pen pal
  • random capitals Have The Power to Annoy (see what I did there?) – they subtly disrupt your reading flow (that’s why most newspapers lower-case job titles and most headlines)
  • cut out the cliches – and don’t use the word ‘unique’ unless there really is only one in the world of whatever it is (it’s so over-used)
  • be consistent with spellings / dates / caps – if there are no full stops at the end of each bullet point make sure all follow the same pattern; if your home was built in the 19th Century always say 19th Century not nineteenth century or 1900s (and certainly not 1900’s)
  • avoid Eats, Shoots and Leaves syndrome – get apostrophes right (that’s a pet hate!)

Ideas on how to break up the text to make it web-friendly

  • Images – and not just in the header slot – dot them through your copy like this (image, right)
  • Writing rules still apply - just like these boys, handwriting their homework in the old days!Don’t be afraid to add inspiring phrases to images you use (try this site, suitable for even grahic design dummies like me:
  • Links – be helpful (see above); don’t forget to inspire people to click through to other pages on your site too (Google loves a helpful site)
  • Inspiring headlines – never miss a trick to get your message across, in H1 (main) headers and H2 sub-heads (Google picks these up, so do style them accordingly – just making them bold won’t do the trick)
  • Think about the text in terms of chunks rather than one long spiel which is too daunting for people to read. For example, for tourism businesses, you could showcase ‘things to do’ under H2 sub-headings like these below:
  • If you have an hour…
  • In half a day…
  • Family day out
  • Outdoor adventure day
  • Easy access half day…
  • Easy access day out
  • Rainy days

I hope you find these tips helpful – are they? Do let me know! And I look forward to reading lots of beautiful, clean copy on your websites soon…