..plus three more ways to avoid web-writing
By Apryl Motley, CAE
their focus is on key words and SEO or on how many links to include per page, association
media professionals are in hot pursuit of the perfect formula for writing on
the web. While there likely is no perfect equation for web writing, there are
some common pitfalls they can avoid as they hone their web writing skills.
understand why people use the wording ‘click here’ for hypertext links,” says
Leslie O’Flahavan, principal and owner of E-WRITE, experts in online
communication, specifically writing for online readers.
"It’s a bad
idea; it’s terrible for search engines,” she continues. "Avoid empty content
like ‘click here.’ People want to instruct readers, so they start with the
instruction instead of writing words their audiences actually use to search
This is one
key strategy that helps organizations write more clearly for the web. An
experienced writing instructor, O’Flahavan has taught customized writing
courses for more than two decades, and she offers these additional suggestions
for presenting your association’s content on the web most effectively.
- Offer readers
"This is an important web-writing lesson for membership organizations,”
she says. "A big mistake that associations make is providing too much
content. Every web page has too much.”
By the same token, this doesn’t mean web writing has to be
shorter. O’Flahavan says, "Solving the problem is about structuring content
differently and packaging it into smaller pieces to give readers choices.” For
example, if an association publishes a State of X Industry report on the web,
its various parts (executive summary, findings, index, etc.) should be easy to
select and view.
- Maintain your
"Associations are like families in a way,” O’Flahavan observes. "They
usually have a perspective that members want to hear. Your web writing
should match.” Given that, she says, "As often as possible, you should
write message headings instead of topic headings.” For example, a topic
heading would be "recruiting college grads” whereas a message heading
would read "three reasons we need to recruit college grads.”
"Organizations are too worried about being neutral in the
tone of their web writing,” O’Flahavan notes. "Having an opinion is why people
join member organizations.”
- Be open to trying.
people can learn to write for the web,” O’Flahavan insists. "Writing for
online readers requires no more magical expertise than writing for direct
mail, social media, or another communication channel.” In fact, she
ascribes to the philosophy that "good workplace writers are made, not born,”
and most people can learn the conventions that they need to write
effectively for any channel, including the web.
However, she says a willingness to change and adapt is
required: "To pine away about how content used to be published means you’ll
miss opportunities to capitalize upon how it’s being done now.”
O’Flahavan, making the most of these opportunities means answering a key
question that will shape your organization’s overall approach to writing for
the web: "How will you write so that the human user of the search engine gets
what he or she wants? All your other writing choices are easier when you’re
thinking about users first and foremost.”
Apryl Motley, CAE is a communications consultant and member
of the Association Media & Publishing Content Creation Committee. For more
tips on writing for the web, see Beth Mirza’s article ("The Seven Traits of
Better Web Content”) in the Aug. 28 issue of Final Proof.