Writing for the Web
Twitter. Facebook. Online forums. News sites. Social media. A blog on every subject imaginable. These outlets vie for every reader's attention, and those behind the pages have a huge stake in the amount of time readers spend getting their daily dose of up-to-the-minute information, gossip, and opinions.
November's monthly CWIP meeting featured a panel of four experts on the intricacies of meaningful Web-based writing and what it takes to read and be read with integrity and authority. The packed audience of curious CWIPers and prospective members left the presentation with much to ponder about what goes into our infinite menu of online articles, postings, and comments.
CWIP Program Co-Chair Erica Weisz introduced each member of the panel. Farnia Ghavami initiated the discussion on the importance of having a properly designed Website to remain authoritative. He is director of Web operations at InternetRetailer.com , a Vertical Web Media company, and facilitates the production and creation of daily Web and print marketing promotions to insure site functionality and usability. Ghavami stressed that it is imperative to get visitors' attention by putting what they're looking for at the top, which will gain people's trust and keep them from leaving your site.
Along with Ghavami, Colleen Wilson , a senior writer for IDEO Chicago , a global innovation and design consultancy, recognized the necessity of functional Web design. With years of experience copywriting for catalogs, digital initiatives, global communications platforms, and content teams—notably for IKEA, Energy BBDO, and Young & Rubicam—she likened writing for the Web to being a tour guide, saying you must make things actionable, interesting, and consistent.
“Tell people why they should care,” added panelist Betty Hintch . “You must really know your audience and keep people interested because it's so easy to click away.” A past president of CWIP, Hintch has focused her efforts for the past six years toward online newsletters, Web content, and social media. She is on the board of the American Society of Business Press Editors and currently works as Newsletter and Forums editor at the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA).
Hintch touched on the task of writing catchy headlines that include SEO (search engine optimization) terms so your piece can actually come up toward the beginning of a search for the topic. Fourth panelist Barbara Barnett , a seasoned blogger and co-executive editor of Blogcritics , an online magazine, had much to contribute on the subject of SEO. With 30+ years of experience as a Chicago-based writer, editor, speaker, and pop-culture pundit, Barnett feels that SEO is a huge advantage to get people to your site, so making every word count is key. “SEO is important,” Barnett said, “but you can overdo the SEO because of Google's algorithms.”
Without getting too technical discussing Google analytics, the panel did agree that there are underlying rules to publishing online that must be followed or your piece will disappear. Barnett can expertly track page views to her site and reports that the number is high because nothing is plagiarized. “Google will reject anything that is,” she warned.
Wilson helped to switch gears a bit when bringing up the common practice of readers relying on their smartphones as often as others read from their desktop computers. She said to “keep mobile in mind,” meaning that writers should think about how their article will look and flow on a phone.
Ghavami agreed, and added that it's optimal if the reader can get through your site “with just one thumb.” Further, his research has found that readers will spend 10 to 15 minutes maximum reading something on a phone. Tablets are certainly gaining market share with users but, according to Ghavami, their highest usage is from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.—a surprising fact yet helpful when determining how to reach the most readers.
What the panelists all agreed on is that because communication platforms are so interactive now, it offers endless opportunities for anyone to get their words published. Whether it's maintaining a blog, submitting frequent posts on a favorite site, or tweeting on a regular basis, it's keeping interest flowing that matters.
Barnett suggested posing questions to readers. “Audience feedback has often influenced what I write about,” she said. “That way, you can have an ongoing conversation.” She also believes that anyone writing for the Web can be an “evangelist” for their personal messages, keeping in mind the goals of “engagement, enhancement, and amplification” as a digital communicator.
Wilson elaborated by saying, “You never know what people are going to respond to. It's not about you—it's about them [the readers].” Because interaction with readers is instantaneous on social media, a thought-provoking article can end up with a life of its own. “And, people like to read something they can repost,” she added.
Photos and images certainly are added attractions to attract readers, and so are links to relevant subtopics. “Interlinking is the biggest thing now,” according to Ghavami. And, spoken like a true Web guru, “You really can't lose with social media.”
Barnett feels she's been successful because she must be “hyper-organized to keep on top of responding to constant updates” on her blog, barbarabarnett.com/barbaras-blog/ . But that's not to say that there's little thought to what she posts. “Writing is writing. Nothing can substitute for good writing.”That statement brought the panel discussion to a close and opened the floor for Q&A. Written content for any online format is not quite a world away from the printed piece, but there will always be a difference. Quality control often gets pushed aside in the name of “get it posted now” and an article's integrity may be blurred if the author has a false feeling of anonymity because his or her piece is “just on the Internet.” The panelists drove that point home, and the group's seasoned writers, as well as casual posters and tweeters, came away with much to put into their next keystrokes.