This week I delivered 7 tips for writing “sticky” online copy to the IABC chapter in Lynchburg, Va.
Writing for online media is different from writing for print. One of the big differences is that online readers generally are more transient, less patient with long prose and more interested in grabbing all the information they can in as little time as possible. That’s why online copy has to be sticky. It must make a quick impact, grabbing readers’ attention and drawing them into the content. It has to be efficient. It must be compelling enough to keep readers on the intranet or website because they are easily lured elsewhere.
Tip #1. Short and sweet. For intranet stories, I like the guideline of 400-600 words per story (and 600 is getting pretty long for online). Keep it shorter for website info, marketing copy, etc. Shoot for 1-2 screens of copy with minimal scrolling. Write short sentences, use bullets and abbreviations and vary the formats with lists, Q&As, etc. Think like Twitter. What can you say in 140 characters? Elevate the role of editing when writing for online.
Tip #2. Get right to it. Rethink the 5 W’s you learned in journalism school. They don’t always apply to online writing. Skip the lengthy prose. Kill wordy jargon. Go for simplicity, which can be beautiful. William Strunk: “Vigorous writing is concise.”
Tip #3. Punchy heads and teasers. First impressions are everything, especially online. Remember the purpose of heads and teasers (as well as leads): Pull ‘em in. Readers wonder if your content is worth their time and what they will get out of it. Address those issues. Use action words and active phrases. For great examples of punchy heads and teasers, look at popular media. My friend Steve Crescenzo always points to Cosmopolitan as being the standard for enticing heads. Who wouldn’t want to know 5 Ways to Make Your Lover Scream with Pleasure?
Tip #4. Break up copy. Liberally use bullets, subheads, sidebars, Q&As and other copy-breakers. Reduce word count. Provide visual breaks wherever possible. Be on constant lookout for breakout opportunities.
Tip #5. Link to other stuff. Link where more info enhances the message or helps the reader, but don’t link frivolously. Too many links can be annoying. Link to info on your own site first and open links in a new window so readers stay on your site. Use links to help readers take action, sign up, request more information or learn more.
Tip #6. Keep it active. Write in the active voice. Help readers take action. Look for opportunities for interaction; this is the Web, after all. Readers are transient, so make their quick visit to your site worthwhile.
Tip #7. Write well. The way to do this is by reading a lot and writing a lot. Your copy needs to be compelling, interesting and fun. Learn to tell great stories instead of imparting dry information. Use lots of quotes. Avoid jargon.
That list should get you started. Do you have other tips for making your online copy sticky?
Filed under: Back to the Basics, Employee Communication, Marketing, Social Media, Writing Skills | Tagged: copywriting, crescenzo, headlines, IABC, jargon, online communications, strunk, teasers, Twitter, writing |