Attention span has decreased in the last 30 years and TV is mostly blamed for that – when you have a generation used to watching more than 6 hours of TV per day, usually presented in chunks of around 12 minutes. You have been gradually conditioned to feel anxiety after doing the same task for 12 minutes or more.
As alarming as that may seem, there’s no way I expect you to spend 12 precious minutes reading this blog post. So let’s get to the 10 steps to writing specifically for web consumption.
Headlines make all the difference
My favorite examples of make people either knowingly nod, or shake their heads. The first is from Conomunity.com, they had an article that listed the price of condoms all over the world which was entitled Cheap Condoms, Expensive Condoms – meh. Then EnvironmentalGraffiti.com turned it into: World’s Most Expensive Places to Have Sex. Ding, ding, ding – half a million people find the new article and share it like crazy on sites like Digg and Reddit.
My next example is just plain dumb. The Raleigh News & Observer newspaper site decided that the right headline for the article about the Christmas Parade was Yule Procession at 9:30 in Raleigh. What makes this one even more personally painful is that I was working at McClatchy Interactive at the time and still couldn’t convince them they made a mistake.
You get 2.6 words in your headline to grab a reader
Web readers are scanners. Don’t save your best stuff for the end. If you doubt this pay more attention to how you look at sites besides your own, you can barely be bothered with looking at it.
You get a person’s attention for 3 seconds before they decide to stay or go
What can you show a visitor in 3 seconds? Don’t be afraid to tell your visitors exactly what you want them to do. A compelling photo doesn’t hurt either!
Web text should be 50% of what you would write in a print piece
I ran across this rule-of-thumb recently and it really struck a nerve. I thought it was a perfect way to encourage writers to edit more before posting.
There is no time to establish rapport, you need to immediately captivate your reader and suggest action
Character development is best left to the writers on Mad Men. You need to write for immediate consumption yet in a way that content will still be valuable a year later.
Your title needs to have a well thought out keyword selection
Your headline can have a little more freedom (see #1)
Add value with intelligent links
Don’t be afraid to have links out to other excellent examples of what you’re talking about.
Proper semantic markup
If you’re not sure what that headline means, you can read what Barry Wise wrote to get started.
Your first 150 words are the most important
Like a human, the Googlebot also thinks the stuff at the beginning is more important than the stuff at the end. Your first paragraph or two should have the important words and phrases that you are targeting.
Nobody knows your niche as well as you do
Write more. I know you may not find yourself thinking, “man I wish I could write 3 more articles for my company website today!” but you are the expert. You have the insights. You have the experience. Share it and become a widely respected expert.
For years you’ve heard people saying “content is king”. The truth is that only good, findable, engaging content rises to the level of royalty.
Writing for the web is an entirely different skillset, but you’re already most of the way there. With the attention span on the web approaching zero, you must get to know your audience at a whole different level. You have to know how to appeal to their needs and wants. You may have written some really good, thought-provoking content in the past that didn’t generate any engagement or traffic. Well, here’s a cookie. That content is utterly useless if nobody ever sees it. Getting people to find your content is how you turn good content into great content!
Become a better writer, attract more customers, engage with them so they like you and want to do business with you. You know what happens to people like that? They get big raises… sometimes 25%.