Writing for the web, or eWriting, is very different to writing for print media simply because the web moves. Not the web itself perhaps but the reader, surfing in and out of a site in 15 to 45 seconds according to some surveys and even as quickly as a second or two after landing if the site is truly and obviously not what was being looked for. The web moves and is moveable, or searchable far more simply and effectively than print media such as books, magazines, newspapers and even microfiche records, a sort of hybrid print-eWriting medium.
The nature of the medium itself has a lot to do with how we read online. In fact it has trained the online reader to scan rather than read word for word. In the few seconds given to each new page the reader will scan to see if the content is worth their time and attention. We seem to be incredibly busy these days, nevermore so than when wasting hours surfing the net. We seem to be impatient and in a hurry to get the information we are after, yet even if we find it or something equally as promising, too often we have the urge to move on, as if we can’t stay in one place for fear of missing something better.
The fact is, if the information is there now, it will be there in an hour or two. yet most people admit to feeling a sense of urgency when reading online. It maybe partly because we do cram so much more into our days now as there is more stuff to cram. Or it could be that we have trained ourselves to read this way as a defence mechanism against the mountains of rubbish that is online. Whatever the reason or cause, the reality is that we do tend to skim and scan as readers. Therefore, as eWriters, we need to write in such a way that we facilitate this and give the reader the experience and information she is after.
One expert who has done a considerable amount of research into this topic is Jakob Nielsen. Time spent reading, not scanning, Nielsen’s site is time well spent for any eWriter. There are a couple of main points I would like to précis here for the eWriter in a hurry.
First of all, write to be read. That means that your content should be scannable. Make it easy to decide if the page has the information the reader wants by using highlights for keywords. This can be in the form of a hyperlink, which also adds credibility as it shows you are not scared of sending the reader to another site. Those sites that try and keep a reader prisoner until they buy something never (or at best rarely) send the reader anywhere but to the checkout page.
Keywords in bold or a different colour also catch the eye and spread across the page allow the reader to quickly grasp the gist of the content. They might look a little old fashioned though, so hyperlinks are often the best option.
The font and point size are also important, you don’t want to ‘YELL’ at the reader but neither do you wish to whisper. Make it easy to see the words and read them. White space is good as it gives the eye a rest and time to recover before tackling the next text block. Use graphics and charts as well as bullet lists to break up large blocks of text and this will make it more ‘interesting’ to read, as well as easier to read quickly.
When you do use a list, remember the ‘First 2 Wor’ rule. The first one or two words, at least the first 11 characters, including spaces, are crucial. Surveys have proven that lists and headings are far more successful when the first 11 characters give a good idea of what the next block of text is all about. Of course the reader can read the rest of the list or heading but it is the first 11 characters that do the business.
When it comes to a hyperlink, those first 11 characters must give the reader an inclination of what will be found if they click on the link. For example, ‘perrygamsby’ will clearly tell the reader they are going to a site dealing with Perry Gamsby. If they are after his writing, books or knowledge then they will click on it without hesitation. If they have no idea of who he is, but are looking for information on how to write eBooks, then ‘perrygamsbysebooks’ will not work as well as ‘ebooksbyperrygamsby’. Whether the phrase is written as a heading with spacing or as part of a URL, the reader looking for eBooks will choose the latter while the reader familiar with PerryGamsby and looking for his eBooks, or any eBooks, will likely choose the first one.
This is the same when it comes to choosing a domain name, if you can incorporate keywords that are major search terms then you will have better luck at being found than if the domain name has little to do with the site content. I found this out when I put a spare domain name to good use for my free eWriter site, ‘Dangerous Ideas’. Even that has nothing directly to do with eWriting or getting your work published online. The actual URL is one we had lying around spare, sharkstooth.biz from a previous but unsuccessful project. So the odds of someone looking for a place to have their eWriting published for free, or to read some eWrting and choosing sharkstooth as a search term, let alone dangerous ideas, are pretty much slim to none. Nonetheless, the site is promoted by other means and enjoys a good stream of traffic as other factors take over the ranking results.
Because most people read the webpage like an F, they really only read the first paragraph, maybe the next and then scan down the left side of the page before moving on. This is why those first two words or 11 characters are really important. Something down the stem of the F might catch their eye and generate sufficient interest to remain and read on.
That first paragraph has to contain just one idea, and a good one at that. It must equate to the heading and hopefully, the hyperlink or URL that got the reader there. Putting it all together like that will make it easier to be found, ensure the reader hangs around longer and perhaps likes the site enough to take some desired action. Trying to cram too many ideas into the first paragraph, and in each subsequent paragraph is a recipe for disaster. The reader will lose interest and move on.
Like the inverted pyramid style of journalism, the most important information must go in that first paragraph. Having a great graphic might help get their attention and create interest to read on, but if the text doesn’t back this up, they will lose their desire to read on and fail to take any action. In other words, that first paragraph has to be a spoiler, it must give them the conclusion. If the conclusion is grabbing enough, they will read on to get the detail. Simple as that.
That paragraph above covered the AIDA concept of eWriting. Borrowed from sales and marketing, your eWriting must A.I.D.A. That means:
Attention: It must grab their attention and wrest it from everything else.
Interest: It has to interest them enough to read on.
Desire: I must create the desire to take the next step;
Action: They must want to take action, click on an ad, sign up for a freebie.
You can achieve this if you keep the headlines short and very clear as to what the story is about, yet they must have enough intrigue built in to make the reader curious enough to read on. The text must be scannable with highlighted or hyperlinked keywords they can use to draw their eye further along the paragraph. It must be concise and clear, no flowery prose or hyperbole and wild claims of being the biggest ever or the best the web has ever seen.
Combine these points and the rest Nielsen discusses in greater detail on his web site and you are well on your way to successful online eWriting.