There is a common misconception that because everyone writes, everyone can write.
If only that was the case.
There are multiple considerations that writers have to apply to each piece of content they create. These include tone, voice and most importantly the medium.
It’s one thing to write a book, where a reader can reasonably expect to have themselves immersed for hours in different worlds constructed around words and nuanced by the characters that inhabit them. Even in business and non fiction books, the character is always there in the voice of the person doing the writing.
It’s another thing to write for the Web where you are always a click away from someone leaving your content and never coming back. So becoming a decent business copywriter is essential if you want to make yourself shine online. The good news is that even if you aren’t a great writer to begin with, you can get better. Here are some ideas to get you going.
Use the Active Voice
They teach this in journalism school – which is my background. And I’ll be the first one to admit that I sometimes lapse on this one. However, you’ll want to be direct if you’re writing to a business audience. The active voice is direct. What is the active voice? It’s a sentence formed by a subject, verb and object — in that order. So the active voice would be in a sentence such as, “The Board of Directors passed the motion.” The Board of Directors is the subject, passed is the verb, and the motion is the object.
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Like all rules there will be times when it goes out the window. The motion might be the most important part of the sentence and that’s what you’ll lead with. Thus, you would write “The motion was passed by the Board of Directors.” However, this is an exception. Most of the time, you should be able to write in the active voice. Your sentences will be shorter as a result, which is an added bonus.
Use the Inverted Pyramid Style of Writing
With this style of writing, you start off writing the most important take-away in your very first sentence, and then you write the second most important thing. Finally, the least important thing is at the very bottom of your article. Think of a triangle flipped upside down. They also teach this in journalism school – generally on the very first day.
When you use the inverted pyramid, especially on the web, you are acknowledging that people don’t have time to read everything you’ve written. Most web users scan the first line of text and then scan down the left side of your content, looking for the salient points that are of interest to them.
Write this way, and people walk away knowing the most important thing you have to say right away. This is crucial in business. If you beat around the bush, people will tune out your message quickly and click away to some other source with more clarity.
Break Up Your Content
Imagine this scenario: a visitor comes to your site and sees a wall of words. Do you honestly think people are going to sift through that on the Web – especially on a mobile device? Not a chance!
You can do a few things to add white space and make your article more pleasing to the eye:
- Use bulleted lists, such as what I’m doing here. These can be numerical or just straight bullets. Pro tip: numbers should be kept for items that are steps in a process.
- Add headings to your articles to get rid of what some people refer to as “paragraph soup.” If you can put keywords or keyword phrases into those headings, it’ll help with your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts.
- Keep your paragraphs short. Try to focus on one idea per paragraph.
- Keep your sentences to the point. You might be a genius, but most people will get stuck on long, complicated sentences.
- Use internal links to other relevant articles to break up your copy.
One more thing: If you find your copy is getting long — which might be okay if you’re looking for people to share it (since some web users like sharing long, involved copy) — consider breaking it up into two or three posts or pages.
Know Your Audience (And Write to It)
It’s great to toss a whole bunch of links and keywords into your content to make Google fall in love with it. But remember that you’re writing for humans, not robots – especially if you’re trying to sell something. People want to be treated as people, especially if you’re writing to a general audience. Be conversational. Take out all of the marketing jargon. Make the abstract as simple as possible. One good technique is to think about writing as though the person you are writing to is sitting directly across from you. Talk to them on the page.
Link Only to Sources With Credibility
You probably only associate with certain people in your life, and none of them are named Wikipedia. Humour aside, what you link to can add to or destroy your content’s credibility. Your sources must be reliable.
The best way to approach this is to only link to primary sources. Try to avoid using sources that quote another source — unless, of course, that’s the only source that you can find and the secondary source is reputable. For instance, if you can only find information from a primary source in, say, a newspaper article and can’t find that information on the source’s Web site, it might be OK to use the newspaper article if it is a credible newspaper. However, always be sure to look for the primary source first.
There are probably plenty of other tips and techniques that you can think of. What are they? Feel free to add to the list by commenting below!