publication date: Aug 24, 2011
author/source: reproduced with permission, Specialized Information Publishers Association
You can't just lift donor and client stories word for word
from your print materials and slap them on your website. But how do you write
effectively for the Web? In a June 2011 presentation to the annual conference
of the Specialized Information
, Curt Brown
of Progressive Business Publications
out the challenges of writing for online consumption - and how to
overcome those challenges. Here's his list.
This article is reproduced with permission from
the newsletter of the Specialized Information Publishers Association.
- In print, headlines have three seconds to
grab the reader; in online, you have one. The three
types of headlines and email subject lines that best grab a reader's attention are
need-to-know information like news, a tease and intrigue.
- Use shorter sentences and paragraphs, fewer details and
more contractions, and be more conversational. People are less likely to
scroll down a page if there are large blocks of copy.
- Consider the visual difference. In
print, people can see where the story ends, and
if the length isn‘t too daunting, they‘ll stick with it. They
generally don't have that with the Web. That means you need to pay more attention to
transition sentences, use shorter sentences and write descriptive subheads.
- The beginning of a story is even more important
online. (It's just so easy to click away.) One editor uses a
details-at-11 approach, taken from those teases you hear on commercials
right before the news comes on.
- Throat-clearing introductions are especially
deadly on the web, precisely because you don‘t
have the advantage of people reading them in print and saying, even
subconsciously, "I'll get past this because this piece isn‘t that long anyway."
- The web is less formal. A print
headline might say, "Worker was fired for his bad attitude: Why's OSHA
involved?" The online equivalent might be, "Fired for being a jerk or
whistleblower? OSHA weighs in." (Brown says that there are many headlines PBP
has used online but would not use in print such as, "‘I got so trashed!' 7
worst things to say at work" or "Kids surfing the Net - while still
potty training." It's just a different mentality.)
- A negative tone works online. People have
entirely different motives for clicking on (or forwarding) an online link
than they do for subscribing to a newsletter. A few weeks ago, a PBP editor was
leery about using a subject line with a negative tone: "5 reasons
even the best sales teams fail". But it was used and
got the highest click-through percentage in the past month.
In print, however, they used "Five reasons the best sales teams
- Be more direct on the web. In
print, a headline might read, "Five ways to add polish to your professional
image." Online, it becomes "Think looks don't affect your salary? Guess again!"
- Top-10 lists work. Some main-media
publishers have a person who just does lists.
- Give an online headline some intrigue. "OSHA dodges
budget cuts: More inspections on the way?" "Wedding costs golfer
US Open." "Let your employer know about this tax-cut time bomb."
- Online articles can be great for the comments
they elicit or the instant feedback. But Brown says that he does not "write to elicit comments. If the topic
and story are good enough, you‘ll get comments. Plus, I think it's a bad trap
to write in a way that begs for comments ... The stories I've written that
got the most comments were done without a thought given to whether or
not people would be moved to comment."