How to write an online article
How to write an online article
The ever-growing prevalence of smartphones and tablets means we’re reading content from a screen more than ever before as we continue to travel head-first into this digital age.
This means, as creative agencies, we have to alter our writing style to adapt to the growing needs of today’s engagers. It’s a change not exactly to the detriment of a business, because of the financial benefits digital content offers — it’s a lot faster and cost-effective to put an article up online than it is to print.
That’s not to say that print media is dying either — far from it. Consumers still often clamour for a hard brochure or a business card. It’s something they can hold and take with them. The transaction can feel more professional.
At Metronome, we have an abundance of clients wanting both print and digital copy, but more and more that copy is being requested for online purposes.
As with any content strategy, we have to understand what style is going to draw the viewer in to read the content. Here are some key philosophies we follow when writing an online article.
Consumers scan web pages
This when searching
Reading print, such as in magazines, newspapers and brochures, has generally become an activity more aligned with relaxation. But when someone reads content online, it’s usually because they are searching for something specific — as a result, they want to attain their answer as quickly as possible.
When scanning or browsing web pages, eye tracking visualisation studies have found the main reading pattern is a rough F-shaped pattern.
To pander to this quick scan, we ensure we have a headline that explains exactly what the article is about because readers will skim through this first to make sure they are on a website that will answer their question.
Their eyes then make a second horizontal movement about one-third down the page, which is usually shorter than the first. If their needs are satisfied, a vertical eye movement down the left-hand side is the third component – forming the F-shape.
If successful — and it’s no easy task considering the depleting attention spans of today’s digital reader — then you can point the reader in the direction of somewhere else on the website via a hyperlink. This link may be to another article or it to the product itself, where he or she may buy said product — the ultimate goal.
Bullet points and simple sections
The F-pattern makes it easy to understand where you need to write your most important content. So we try to ensure our key information is found in the first two paragraphs to hook our audience and keep them reading.
After this, and if it’s suitable, we employ scannable text to the page as people peruse quickly down it. Whether we’re writing for storage, beauty, property or tech, we aim to employ:
- highlighted keywords — hypertext links serve as one form of highlighting; typeface variations and colour changes are others
- meaningful subheadings
- bulleted lists
- one idea per paragraph — users will skip over any additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the paragraph
In print, people are generally happy to read a bit more in-depth about a subject. After all, they are generally reading for leisure.
But online, you may be surprised to learn that, according to a 2008 study on the natural habits of web use, only 16 per cent of your online text will be read word by word.
Taking this into account, we often write in an inverted pyramid style, where we begin the article with the conclusion in half the word count (or less) than conventional print writing. We also ensure our content is concise and to the point — less really is more sometimes.
When embarking on a content strategy, whether it be for print of digital, your first question should always be: “who is the target audience?”
This is vitally important because it stipulates what your tone of voice is, the length of the article and whether it should be more descriptive or colloquial.
Taking two of our clients, Wilson Storage and Thalia Skin as examples; one is a service aimed at people looking for storage solutions, the other is a skincare product aimed at (prominently) women aged 25-and-over.
We write online content for both of these companies but adjust our writing according to the target audience. For Wilson Storage the writing tends to be more informative, answering a potential viewer’s questions about storage. Our writing for Thalia Skin is more descriptive and we can embellish on the daily routine of skincare.
Incidentally, we can even take this article as an example. The writing is aimed at professionals looking to gain more knowledge in the content marketing sphere. The article is designed to be informative, but also concise. Hopefully, if someone wanted an answer to the question: ‘how to write an online article’, they could have ascertained that fairly quickly. There are a few clear subheadings and the main points are largely bullet-pointed for an easier read.
If it is easy to read, readers will have made it down to this portion of the article — the conclusion, which is: whether you’re writing for print or digital, the target audience still remains your most important factor. But keeping to an online style, where the answer to a reader’s question is easily accessible, will see them stick around on the page for longer to click links to somewhere else on the website.