Writing for the Web – A Quick Guide on What to Write and How to Write It

Also available in PDF: Writing for the Web – A Quick Guide on What to Write and How to Write It

Writing for the Web – A Quick Guide on What to Write

and How to Write It

This is a short guide on how to write for websites – designed to give you a few tips and encouraging words to get started writing.

Remember: it’s all about Participation not Perfection

Good writing on the web serves a purpose. Words can inform, inspire, entice or sell. The best web writing would not qualify as great writing in the literary sense. So don’t feel you need to pepper your writing with unusual words or poetic touches. You’ll achieve greater success if you just try to communicate with your audience.

Remembering your reader

Whenever you write, try to keep your reader at the forefront of your mind. Who are they? What do they want? Make sure your writing fulfils their needs.

If you’re writing about a product or service, remember to write about the benefits that those products or services offer. So rather than focusing on features, and writing something like:

Our chain saw blades are made of high-carbon steel

Try to highlight how the features of a product or service translate into benefits to the user or consumer, like this:

“The high-carbon steel blade keeps a sharp edge for longer – allowing you to cut faster and more safely.”

What’s the benefit of benefits?

Imagine you want to buy a lawn mower. What do you really want? Do you want a machine that cuts grass or do you want shorter grass? You really want shorter grass – the machine is just a means to an end. Remember that your readers actually want shorter grass.

Although my examples are based around very physical products, the need to give readers clear benefits applies to all kinds of companies, services and products.

What’s so special about the web?

You need to be aware of the little things that make writing for the web different to writing for print. You can’t just lift your writing from a Word document and expect it to flourish on the web.

Reading from the screen

Reading on screen can be hard on the eyes. You can make it easier:

  • Write in short, simple sentences.
  • Use headings and sub-headings to break up blocks of text.
  • Leave white space between paragraphs

Links – a web of connections

With links, pages on the web can lead visitors anywhere – giving you the power to support your claims, show your sources and share great finds. Don’t forget to add links to your writing wherever appropriate.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Many people find things on the Internet by searching for them. Google, Yahoo and the other search engines ‘read’ the pages of your website, and direct people to your site if it contains what people are searching for.

It’s important to remember this when writing for your website. What terms might people search for your information with? Make sure you think about the words and phrases other people use when talking about your products and services. Make sure you use these words and phrases in your writing, and in headings and sub-headings.

Remember who you’re writing for

With SEO, it’s easy to get distracted with thoughts of how search engines will interpret your content. While it’s wise to understand the way search engines work, you should always write for people. Focus on what your human audience want to read. If you publish things on the web that are interesting, people will link to your writing. This is a better, more natural approach to SEO.

Getting discovered

If you want people to find your writing, you’ll need to get in front of their eyes. Write comments on other bloggers’ posts, use social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, and contribute to forums (making sure to include a link to your website in your signature) to find your audience.

Every link to your website has two values: it helps people discover your work, and it improves your website’s search engine performance.

On Writing

Be nice to your readers: use a spell checker. Also, ask a friend, relative or colleague to review your work. It’s always sensible to let your words rest overnight before re-reading, just to make sure they still make sense in the morning.

The Internet: nothing to fear

Many people worry that when they post their writing to the Internet, a stream of mean, sarcastic comments will rush to greet them. In reality, this is highly unlikely.

If you post informative content in a considerate, friendly way, you are not likely to receive anything but friendly, polite responses.

Flex your writing muscles!

I hope this brief guide has given you a few pointers to get writing. With any kind of writing, the only way to get better is to write.

Imagine that you have a writing muscle. You might not have exercised this muscle recently, but all you need to do is start writing. So start writing, and flex your writing muscles!

Key Points

  • Remember your reader – what do they want?
  • Remember your desired result – what do you want to achieve?
  • Highlight how the features of a product or service translate into benefits
  • Optimise your writing for the screen with short, simple sentences.
  • Use white space, headings and sub-headings to break up text
  • Look for ways to lead people to your website – gaining links and mentions on forums, blogs (in comments) and social networking sites
  • The best way to become a better writer is by writing. So start writing!

Credits: thanks to Premasagar Rose of Dharmafly (Ethical Social Media) for his considered editorial input, and Emma Nicol of Door 22 (Graphic Design Agency) for her astute design work.

Writing for Bloggers

As requested, here’s a blog post version of my writing guide for bloggers, which is also available as a PDF.

Writing for Bloggers –

A Quick Guide on Style, Substance and Strategy

This is a short guide that wants to encourage you to blog, and to blog well. The most important thing to remember is that blogging is about conversing – discussing the things that interest you. When you blog, you join in the online discussions that are happening all around us.

Blogging is about sharing your ideas and thoughts, and it’s about contributing. Blogging is not about poetry, great literature or polished prose.

So join in the conversation, and don’t be afraid of getting things wrong. It’s better to stumble your way through blogging, learning by doing, than to spend hours agonising over every blog post.

Why bother?

Before we look at how you can blog well, and enjoy it, let’s consider why you’re doing this. Think about which of the following apply to you:

  1. To promote your business
  2. To reflect on your personal development
  3. To announce your news
  4. To share discoveries
  5. Because your boss says you have to
  6. To stake out your corner of the web
  7. To improve your website’s Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
  8. To get recognition for your work
  9. To connect more personally to your customers
  10. To provide a platform for customer feedback

Conversational communications

Blogging is very different from traditional media (like newspapers or TV) because the web allows everyone to become the producers and commentators of every item of news. Your blog should acknowledge the conversations already taking place around you.

How can you hold a conversation on the web?

  • Invite comment from your readers
  • Respond to commentators’ opinions
  • Freely link to relevant blog posts
  • Comment on other bloggers’ posts

What to write?

An empty blog can be intimidating – and as uninspiring as a blank page or white screen. Before you start blogging, it can be difficult to decide what subjects to cover. You may be wondering:

  • What is permissible?
  • What will be interesting?
  • How will I come up with ideas?

Deciding what’s right to write about

Your understanding of the ‘subject’ of your blog will probably change over time. As you write more blog posts, you’ll learn which things work and which things don’t. To start with, stick to what you know, or what you feel most comfortable writing about.

A note on subjects you know and subjects you don’t know:

You don’t have to be the world’s foremost authority on a subject in order to write about it. Blogging is about discovery and development as much as it’s about sharing ideas or knowledge. If you’re not certain about a particular topic or subject area, say so. Your readers will appreciate your honesty.

Where do ideas come from?

The hardest time to find ideas for blog posts is at the start. That’s because you’ve said nothing at all, and everything remains to be said. Once you start blogging, ideas flow as though a dam has burst – one idea leads to another, readers suggest new posts, comments beg to be answered, the Blogosphere* draws you inwards, onwards!

To begin with, try brainstorming ideas with a friend or colleague. Look at other blogs for inspiration. Try a list – something like ‘The Top 10 Tricks for…” Turn a list into a series – so rather than giving away ten ideas in one blog post, create ten blog posts – publishing one a week for the next ten weeks.

Why not write about…

  • A book you’ve read
  • A problem you’ve solved
  • A question you can’t answer
  • Something that inspires you
  • What motivates you
  • A recent project
  • A favourite client


How often will you blog? It’s a good idea to set a target. If you’re starting out, aim for one post per week, as a minimum. Twice a week is better.

Once you have a list of blog post titles or rough ideas for posts, outline a schedule for posting. Decide which post you’ll publish on which day. Mark the posts on a calendar. Tell your readers when you will be posting, and don’t let them down!

Writing for your blog

Luckily, the way we communicate has moved on from the lessons we learned in school. Here are some old-school rules you can forget about:

  • Split infinitives. What is a split infinitive? It doesn’t matter.
  • Contractions. Words like: can’t, don’t, shouldn’t. Feel free to use contractions, especially if they make your writing sound more conversational.
  • Repeating words. If you’re writing about computer networks (for example), it’s okay to repeat the words ‘computer networks’.

What’s the point?

The best way to start writing a blog post is by defining your purpose. Answer the questions:

  • What am I trying to say?
  • Who am I writing this for?
  • What do I want to achieve?

Remember your reader

Be nice to your reader. Think about them as you write. It’s them that you are writing for:

  • After writing a blog post, leave it overnight, then review it again. You’re more likely to spot mistakes or problems with your posts after taking a break.
  • Use sub-headings to break up the text. Remember that reading on screen can be hard on the eyes. Sub-headings help people to scan your posts – great for readers in a hurry!
  • Use a spell-checker.
  • Ask a friend or colleague to read your blog posts before you publish them. Ask them to check that your posts make sense.

The Internet: nothing to fear

Some people worry about the reaction their blog posts will receive. You shouldn’t worry. As long as you write informative, useful blog posts in a friendly, considerate way, you will receive friendly, polite responses from your readers.


Hyperlinks, or links – the clickable text that leads you from one website to another – are one of the things that makes the web such a special place. You can use links to provide evidence for your claims, or support for your argument, or additional resources for your readers. Use links in your writing wherever they might be useful.

Writing makes you a better writer

I hope this brief guide has given you a few pointers to get writing. With any kind of writing, the only way to learn and improve is to write.

Imagine that you have a writing muscle. You might not have exercised this muscle recently, but all you need to do is start writing. So start writing, and flex your writing muscles!

Key Points:

  • Blogging is conversational – write as you would speak, and be open to comments from your readers
  • Schedule your blog posts in a calendar and blog regularly
  • It’s okay to split infinitives, use contractions and repeat words
  • Use short sentences and headings to make your writing easier to read on screen
  • Ask someone to read your posts before you publish them, and use a spell-checker
  • Regular writing practice will improve your writing skills
  • Don’t be afraid of making mistakes – become a better blogger by blogging!

Thanks to the following for their input: (who responded to my request for readers on Twitter)

Writing for Bloggers – A Quick Guide on Style, Substance and Strategy

So here it is – my second guide to writing for the web.

Writing for Bloggers – A Quick Guide on Style, Substance and Strategy

This guide focuses on blogging, and things bloggers can do to improve their writing. It’s a very short guide, intended to cover the basics and remove obstacles in the paths of new bloggers.

If you would like the white label version to give your clients, email me and I’ll send you a copy. Please distribute freely – I want to encourage people to blog.

Thanks to the following for their input: (who responded to my request for readers on Twitter)

Writing for the Web – a Mini Guide

As promised, and previously discussed, I’ve been busy working on a couple of writing guides. Here’s the first:

Writing for the Web – A Quick Guide on What to Write and How to Write it

Now this guide isn’t for everyone: it’s for new writers, people who aren’t social-media-savvy, people who want or need to write for their own website, but who need a bit of guidance. I really wanted to create this guide because so many people are realising the value of adding content to websites, but not everyone understands how to write for the web.

Web developers – save your sites!

So, if you’re a web developer who regularly dreads the arrival of your client’s DIY copy, why not grease the wheels of good fortune by giving clients a little direction? This guide should prevent people making basic mistakes and improve your chances of getting copy that doesn’t detract from the website you’ve lovingly crafted.

If you’d like to give this guide to your clients, I can even offer you a white-label version that you can brand as your own.


Thanks to Premasagar Rose of Dharmafly, Brighton’s finest ethical web developers and social media instigators, and Emma Nicol of Door 22 Creative (a Graphic Design agency) – who took my Word document and worked some crafty design magic on it. Thanks!


Coming soon is Writing for Bloggers – a similarly short guide that aims to remove obstacles from the paths of virgin bloggers.

Council campaign to eradicate jargon

Jargon signI stumbled with interest upon this article, which I hope is more evidence of a backlash against jargon and management-speak. Apparently, the chairman of the Local Government Association, Sir Simon Milton, is encouraging all employees to avoid “non-words” such as those on this list.

The offending words include: incentivising, coterminous, subsidiarity and synergies. It’s good to see that the anti-jargon movement is taking hold in government departments.

Years ago I worked in a sales department where the sales people often used expressions like “moving forward” and would try to persuade customers to buy a product with the weak statement: “it’s been a very strong line for us”. I always wondered how much more they would sell if they spoke honestly and directly, and just said “this product consistently sells in the thousands”.

What does “strong” really mean anyway? It won’t break? Any language that you have to decipher can be considered jargon, and ripe for editing.

(Picture courtesy of Adam Dorrell)

Write More – Writing Tip #1

Just write.

Write emails, blog posts, articles or letters. Everything you write makes you better at writing.

This isn’t Earth-shattering advice, but it’s important enough that I made it my #1 writing tip.

Show me a bad writer and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t write much. It’s as simple as that.

Copywriters are lucky in that they get plenty of practice to hone their writing skills. If you’re not so lucky, make the most of writing opportunities in your daily life to write, and take care in your writing.

Read More – Writing Tip #2

Writers don’t have to read every classic. You can read anything, but you must read something.

If you don’t read you will never understand how writing works, or how it can fail.

Be adventurous with your reading. Avoid re-reading the same few books.

Reading a variety of styles and sources will strengthen your writing, improve your vocabulary and fill you with ideas.

Ask for Feedback – Writing Tip #3

It can be hard to hand over your writing to someone. New writers often get very shy about their work, and nervous of what people will think.

But it’s important to get started with the process of finding readers.

Your first readers may be family, then friends, or anyone who will take the time. But whoever these readers are, they will provide an invaluable service.

Any advice, whether from a professional writer or an occasional reader, is useful. It will also get you used to the apprehension of waiting to hear what people think of your writing.

Criticism is hard to take, but it gets easier. Especially when it’s intelligent, constructive criticism that helps you progress.

Understand Grammar – Writing Tip #4

Grammar Crisis in Sainsbury’s

Grammar and spelling are a writer’s tools. Just as a plumber must understand and own a set of tools, writers must have a good grasp of grammar.

If grammar troubles you, I recommend reading Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. It’s a classic (and very short) book on using English well.

Once you get writing, ask another writer to read your work. Ask for feedback on your style as well as your content.

Practice writing and your grammar will soon improve.

(Picture courtesy of Richard Leeming)

Are Copywriters Partly to Blame for Shrinking Vocabulary?

“Instead of stretching minds, worlds – including the world of words – are being shrunk to fit them.”

So writes Lynsey Hanley in the Guardian.

Lynsey’s article discusses society’s growing inarticulacy, and the way in which our education system is designed to suit capabilities rather than challenge them.

This got me thinking because copywriters are taught to use simple, plain English, to avoid baffling an audience they want to persuade. While this is clearly a sensible approach for business communications, copywriters should be wary of over-simplifying their writing.

We may eventually be left with too few words to adequately express ourselves.

Make Time for Writing – Writing Tip #6

Writer’s Block

A creative writing tutor once told me that the only difference between myself and Steven King was that Steven King had sat down, many times, and written.

Steven King had written a lot. I had written a little.

You can’t be a good writer if you don’t write.

So get started.

Many “writers” are people who call themselves writers without ever actually writing. These “writers” are always waiting for a good time to get started on the great idea they had five years ago.

These “writers” aren’t writers at all.

Busy lives make it hard to find the time to write, but it’s never impossible. If you currently wake at 7 to get ready for work, consider getting up at 6. Immediately you have an hour to write! Do you have a lunch break? If yes, why aren’t you writing in it?

I know life isn’t always as simple as I’ve made out, but with some creative thinking you should be able to make a few hours in your busy week to write.

** I’d love to hear from anyone who has a creative solution to the problem of finding time to write. Your tricks may help others! **

(with thanks to David AKA Lump of Hesitation for the great picture)

Are you fit to write? Writing tip #7

Real Icelandic Fitness

I’m starting my series of 7 writing tips with something a little unconventional. You might not find this in writing manuals but it works for me, so it may work for you.

If writing feels like hard work, it may be because your body is struggling as much as your mind.

The secret to unlocking your creative energies may be exercise. As vigorous exercise resets your stress levels, wiping away the shadow of previous stresses, you will be clearing the space in your brain, ready for writing!

So if you don’t exercise regularly and find writing a real struggle, consider improving your fitness – it may improve your writing.

(thanks to G Hjoll for the brilliant picture!)

Writing Tips – Seven Little Gems

Three Pens

This week sees the start of my series of writing tips.

Every Wednesday I’ll be publishing a new tip, working up to the most important.

Now these are my own ideas, so they aren’t concrete rules that you must obey. They’re just gentle suggestions that may help you be a better writer.

And these aren’t about copywriting in particular; they’re tips for all writers.

I hope you find them useful – please leave comments!

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