As a website owner, it’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of your site – worrying about SEO, the latest Google algorithm change and whether you have the right theme set up the right way. But there’s one thing that can left behind in the quest to keep up with the online Joneses – and it’s the most important aspect of having a website – the readers and visitors. Before considering SEO or any of the other factors, site owners should think about the content – and whether this works for the people visiting the site. Make your content reader-friendly and traffic will follow. Here are some tips for writing and structuring web content so it works for readers.

Step 1 – Write a Good Title

This needs to tell people exactly what to expect from the article. It’s ok to have the occasional play on words, but keep in mind that not all your readers will come from your country or speak your language. Unless you are pretty sure that your humor translates, keep it to a minimum. Take the title of this post, for example. When you read it, you immediately know that the article is about writing web content and targeting it to readers. You don’t usually need a lot of words to convey the essence of a post. If you do, perhaps it’s too complex. Of course, there are exceptions. If it had been in a magazine, that would have been a two-deck head, with each deck expressing a different key idea. On a blog or site, you don’t always have that luxury.

Step 2 – The Intro

Writing web content is a lot like writing news stories or feature articles – you need to grab people at the start. No writer gets it right every time, but you have a better than average shot if you follow this advice.

Remember that the first paragraph is your first chance to deliver on the promise of the title. You can expand more on what you plan to talk about so readers know whether it’s worth reading more. If you don’t get this right, you will lose them. There are lots of possible ways of tackling this:

  1. You can repeat basically what’s in the title – making sure to cover the key idea in slightly more detail.
  2. You can give a brief preview of what you plan to cover in the rest of the article.
  3. You can outline a problem the reader may have that you plan to solve.

Of the three, the last one is probably the strongest from a reader’s point of view. That’s because if the title grabbed them, then it’s an issue for them so they want to know what you are going to say. You can also combine all three approaches to make a strong first paragraph, starting with outlining the problem and expanding on the title and moving on to previewing what’s coming next.

Step 3 – Outline Key Ideas

Draw attention with your content

Let’s take one step back before you continue writing. When you start a post you should have an idea of what you plan to cover. My original plan for this post had five points I wanted to include. I made a bulleted list to guide me – and used those to come up with subheads for each section.

Sub-heads are attention getters. They break up the text visually making it easy for readers to skim read and find the parts of the post that interest them most. They also give a further snapshot of what will be in the article. If you are scrolling through hundreds of articles in your RSS reader, it’s the subheads that will alert you subliminally if there’s something you should read. I don’t know about you, but I’ve often been scrolling past an article, seen a good subhead and then gone back to the beginning to read the whole thing. (See Daren’s post on free domains for an example of good use of subheads.)

Step 4 – Write the Body

Once you have your outline, you can continue to write – putting one key idea per paragraph.That keeps it simple for your readers – and for you. This is part of a good structure. Each paragraph or section helps to build up successive layers of information, and that keeps readers reading. This is how journalism students learn to write news articles, but it works pretty well for web content too.

As well as the sub-heads mentioned earlier, break up the text by adding bulleted or numbered lists where appropriate. Readers love lists, so writers should too.

As you write, add links to related content on your own site or elsewhere. Links to your own site helps readers stay there longer, which is good news for your web traffic stats. Links to other sites let readers know you are knowledgeable in the field and willing to share – and that helps to build your authority.

Keep going through your outline till you have completed all the key information you need to include. Then you’re ready to write the last part – the conclusion.

Step 5 – Concluding the Article

If you have planned your web article correctly, you already know the main point you want to end on. The question is, how do you actually write it to help the reader? Here are some options.

  1. You can state the point that you were leading to, and explain again why the article is important.
  2. You can ask  the readers a question to invite discussion.
  3. You can point to further resources that also address the same issue, making your article even more useful to readers.
  4. You can ask them to do something – a call to action.

You can combine all of the approaches or make up one of your own. The point isn’t HOW you conclude. It is THAT you conclude. An article without a conclusion leaves the reader hanging, which is never a good idea.

Extra Credit – Images

A picture speaks a million words It’s a clichÈ to say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but like all clichÈs there’s some truth in it. The right image gives a visual hint of what you will cover – and also helps make your content more shareable. I’ll be looking at places to find the right images in another post.

Follow these tips on structure and content and your web content won’t just appeal to search engines, but to readers. What tips would you add?