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How to Write Content for a Website (Blogs Posts are NOT Essays)

Answer this:

Did you learn how to write in school?

Most likely, the answer is “yes,” and the majority of that writing came in the form of persuasive essays.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with essays, but…

Blog posts are not essays.

While your teacher may have slogged through dense paragraph after paragraph, visitors to your website simply won’t put up with it.

running away
Your readers after seeing a wall of text.

When writing for a website, you’re writing “web content,” and web content has rules.

The #1 rule when writing web content

When writing for the web, the number one guideline is:

You have to capture and keep your reader’s attention.

And you do that by creating visually appealing content.

Like it or not, this is how the web works. Most of your visitors will scan your article and pick out individual words and sentences. Very few will read word by word.

Here’s what readers actually do when they view your content:

reader scanning visualization
Image from Nielsen Norman Group

Their eyes dart around the page looking for interesting points that grab their attention, rather than reading line by line.

The solution isn’t to change your writing style to sound more exciting.

No, this is about how you edit your posts.

You can continue to write the way you already do. Focus on writing an excellent article first, and don’t worry about how it looks.

Once the article is finished and edited for readability, then it’s time to move on to an entirely separate visual editing phase.

The Big Idea: Don’t just focus on how the article reads, focus on how it looks.

Once your article is designed for the way people view content on the web, it will capture their attention and get them to slow down so they actually read your post.

It’s either that or accept that the majority of people who see your content will never put in the effort to read it.

I’m guessing you chose the former option, so to get you started, here are 10 tips you can use to write better content for your website.

1. Use headings frequently

One of the simplest ways to keep your reader’s attention is to make frequent use of headings.

Your first-time readers are going to be impatient and unlikely to read in a traditional way. Any chance they get, they’ll switch to scrolling mode.

As they scroll down the page, each heading is going to slow them down. If the heading is interesting to them, they’ll stop to read its section.

In other words, every heading is a chance to re-engage visitors that have entered “scrolling mode.” The more you add (within reason), the more likely visitors are to stop and read.

You can review your headings easily by opening the Document Outline in the WP editor.

wordpress document outline

Plus, using headings frequently can make you a better writer. Dividing your post into clear sections before you write will give your article excellent structure and keep you focused on each section.

In my opinion, this is the most important of the web writing best practices.

The next most important tactic is to limit the length of your paragraphs.

2. Limit your paragraph length

You should limit your paragraphs to about four lines of text.

It’s not a perfect science: there will be more lines per paragraph on mobile devices, but the point stands: avoid creating really long paragraphs.

To improve the readability of your posts, limit your paragraphs to 4 lines at mostClick to Tweet

Why?

Because dense paragraphs are intimidating and hard to read (challenging to continue to the correct line).

Play around with single-sentence paragraphs and even single-word paragraphs too. Those tend to leap off the page and catch the attention of readers who have stopped actively reading.

“But I write about serious topics!”

Readers in some niches may demand a more formal style, but even serious publications limit their paragraph length.

Here’s a screenshot from an article the New York Times published today about the Chinese economy.

new york times article

The paragraphs are all 3-6 lines. I would encourage you to limit yours to 4 lines, but the main goal is to avoid dense 10+ line paragraphs.

Also, notice the image at the top and slider in the middle (the next element outside the screenshot is a heading too). They don’t go more than a few paragraphs without breaking things up with some sort of visual element.

And a “visual element” doesn’t have to be an image. It can be as simple as a bullet list.

3. Use bullet point lists

Another way to make your text more interesting is to use lists whenever possible.

As a rule of thumb, never use comma-separated lists in your blog posts. Every time you list three or more items, use a bullet list instead.

Lists are:

  • Easy for readers to scan
  • Good for adding space (reducing density)
  • Easy for you to add

This next web writing tip is just as easy to implement.

4. Bold your critical phrases

One of the most powerful tools you have to re-engage readers is bold text.

When choosing text to make bold, you can highlight your most important points, or pick out statements that highlight fears and desires the reader has.

Blogging tip: use bold text to highlight powerful statements that will grab your reader’s attention.Click to Tweet

For example, I could say that if you don’t follow these rules, no one will read your post.

Anyone scrolling past will see that and think, “Wait, I don’t want that to happen to me.” Then they’ll read the surrounding text to make sure they’re not making a mistake that will leave their posts unread.

And if you really want a sentence to stand out, you can use a call-out box.

5. Add call-out boxes

I’m not sure if there’s an official name for this, but I call it a call-out box:

Tip: use call-out boxes when writing content for the web!

It’s a paragraph you give a background color to so it stands out. It also helps to start it with some bold text like “Note” or “Tip.”

The WordPress Gutenberg editor makes it easy to give any paragraph a background color.

wordpress gutenberg tutorial

And when it comes to colors, stick to light pastel colors with black text. White text is often hard to read and the transition from dark to light text is awkward for your readers.

Speaking of color, here’s another way to add it in small bursts.

6. Link to other pages

Most likely, your links are colored differently than the rest of the text in your articles. For that reason, they can be used to make any paragraph look more interesting.

Now, I’m not saying you should link purely for the visuals, but a blog post without any links at all is pretty odd. Linking to other sites can make your content more valuable, and you can always link to your own content as well.

moz linking article

And it doesn’t hurt that the links give your post a visual boost too.

With these first 6 tactics, you already have a full arsenal for making visually interesting web content, and we haven’t even gotten to multi-media elements yet!

Once you implement these next few tactics, your content is going to be incredibly engaging.

7. Embed social media posts

Your website doesn’t exist in a vacuum; this is the worldwide web!

Adding embeds from social networks is one of the best ways to break up text-heavy parts of your blog posts. It also makes your website seem more modern and connected. A plain text post, in comparison, seems weirdly aloof.

You can embed social posts from:

Plus, adding social media embeds with WordPress is incredibly easy. All you have to do is paste the URL of the social post into the editor and WP will auto-embed it for you. Just keep in mind that this only works for public social posts.

There’s another creative way to use social media in your posts too.

8. Insert “Click to Tweet” buttons

When you make a strong point that your readers will connect with, it may be a good time to include a “Click to Tweet” button.

You’ve already seen them in this post, but here’s another example:

Adding “Click to Tweet” buttons make it easy for readers to share your message.Click to Tweet

I use the Novashare plugin for this feature as well as the share buttons you see in the sidebar and above/below the post content.

novashare click to tweet settings
Customizing the Click to Tweet block is easy

Not only does this give you another way to break up your text, it’s also great for increasing your reach on social media. You can include your handle in the Tweet to get more followers and promote your profile.

Now let’s talk images…

9. Include relevant images

Sometimes adding images is natural and easy. Sometimes it’s not.

If you’re writing a tutorial, then it’s obvious: include an image for every step, whether it’s a screenshot or photograph.

But what if you’re writing about something abstract or conceptual? What kind of images can you add to an article about the economy, for instance?

The urge is to include images that are purely decorative, but I would recommend you avoid that. This article is about writing web content, so it’s hard to include relevant images, but imagine if I included a stock photo of someone typing on a laptop here. What would that do for you?

When you’re having trouble including meaningful images in your post, there are a few tricks:

  • Include GIFs that fit conceptually (check Giphy)
  • Add data visualizations for statistics you cite
  • Use screenshots of resources you linked to
  • Rely more on other visual elements

With some posts, you have to get creative to include your images, and sometimes, it’s best to rely on other visual elements instead.

And speaking of other visual elements, a video can be an excellent substitute for a static image.

10. Add in-depth videos

Videos can make your content way more engaging.

And you don’t have to create your own videos either. You can simply search Youtube or Vimeo and embed any video you like.

One of the best ways to implement videos in your articles is to use them to give readers more background info on a topic. For example, you can use it to teach beginners a concept you don’t want to re-explain or give readers a deep dive into a topic that you only want to mention briefly in your article.

Tip: if you have your own Youtube channel, embed your videos in your posts to increase your views and subscribers.

You don’t have to include a video in every post you write, but keep them in mind during your visual editing phase. Oftentimes, embedding a video is a better solution than simply linking to another resource.

Write now, visually edit later

Here’s a term you can take with you:

Visual editing.

You can keep writing as usual when writing for the web, but you’ve got to change the way you edit. The truth is, learning how to write content for a website is not about writing at all; it’s about editing.

Instead of reading your post, look at it. Does it look engaging and easy to read?

Then use these ten tactics to make it visually appealing:

  1. Add more headings
  2. Split up long paragraphs
  3. Convert comma-separated lists into bullet lists
  4. Use bold text strategically
  5. Use call-out-boxes
  6. Link to other pages
  7. Add social embeds
  8. Insert “Click to Tweet” buttons
  9. Include images
  10. Embed videos

Of course, it’s hard to remember all 10 steps.

To make your life easier, use Strive’s checklist feature to document all ten steps in your editing workflow:

Create a post checklist with Strive

It takes a while to implement these techniques in every post – it certainly doesn’t help you write blog posts faster – but once you master them, you’ll get way better engagement.

I hope you learned a lot from these online writing guidelines, and if you did, try using the buttons to the left to share it with someone else, so they can learn how to write for the web too!

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