Writing for the Web is a Matter of Survival - by Karen Lotter

Writing for the Web is very different from Writing for Print. Honest. I'm not just saying so ‘cause I want to make some bucks from my Writing for the Web Course at International Writers College. (Well, that would be good too, but this article is a bit more about the why's and how's, rather than the smoking new netbook that I want to buy). Writing for the Web is a matter of survival.

People Read Differently on the Web

The first reason you need to write in a different way for the Web is because people read differently on the web. (And by the Web, I mean the whole World Wide Web - you know websites, blogs, Facebook - everything on the Internet)

According to Web usability guru, Jakob Nielsen, writing for the Web is very different from writing for print:

•79% of users scan the page instead of reading word-for-word
•Reading from computer screens is 25% slower than from paper
•Web content should have at the least 50% of the word count of its paper equivalent

So, take a guess: where do your eyes go first when you read articles on the Web?

What do you notice, and what do you miss?

The upper left quarter of the screen gets the most attention, according to the Eyetrack III research of The Poynter Institute, the Estlow Center for Journalism & New Media, and Eyetools.

Eyetrack III found some very common behaviour patterns. Reconnaissance comes first. Eyes flick over the entire screen at whatever attracts their attention. The first hot spots include headlines, captions of images, subheadings, links, menu items and the logo of the page.

We Skim Web Pages

We skim web pages. We don't read them. And once one understands that basic principle you are able to understand that writing for the web is a whole new discipline that needs to be learned, pratised and mastered.

In the course of my business I have had far too many people tell me that they do not need copy written for their website; they can use their annual report or corporate brochures. Not even the badly disguised look of horror on my face and persuasive arguing can convince them that what works in print, really does not work on the Web.

A New Website Needs to be Written as well as Designed

And the teccies who build websites often believe they can do it all (but they can't). Most of them will not even whisper to a client how essential it is for a website to be written as well as designed.

So, one more fact. The power on the web lies in the hands of the searchers, your audience. They are the ones who type words into search engines that find our articles and websites. We, as the web writers need to know what words they are going to type and match them in our writing. (Knowing your audience is the cornerstone of web writing).

Multi-dimensional Experience

OK, to the point - we understand that a reading experience on the Web is multi-dimensional. Hyperlinks throughout Web text have conditioned Internet users to jump pages and topics in the middle of a paragraph. Other options are more readily available than they are in other formats. As a web writer you need to anticipate this and hold your audience and "lead" them where you want within your website.

Some call it SEO writing, or content writing or Web copy writing - there is a degree of difference between all of these - even blogging is Web writing. Believe me - all of this it is a whole different ball game.

If you don't learn how to write on the web, you'll be like the Dodo...

Karen Lotter's hands- on Writing for the Web Course (life lessons optional) is happening now at International  Writers' College. Suitable for everyone from students to CEO's.