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Don't Click Here - 11/27/2012 -

..plus three more ways to avoid web-writing woes.

By Apryl Motley, CAE

Whether 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.

"I don’t 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 online.”

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.

  1. Offer readers less first. "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.

  1. Maintain your messaging. "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.”

  1. Be open to trying. "Of course 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.”

According to 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.


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