There are still many people who need to hear this: Digital writing – content that appears online in websites, blogs, landing pages, emails and more  – is a specialized form of writing. It’s an art form that takes into account SEO, functionality, target audience and messaging, all while striving to be easy to skim and scan.

Why digital best practices matter

We often need to take the time to educate clients in certain industries about the importance of writing clear, concise and – yes – short content for the web. For those who publish in the science and medicine fields especially, digital writing can seem too superficial or simple at first. 

However, it’s important to distinguish digital writing from a scholarly article, medical publication or other types of long-form writing. When users encounter a dense “wall of text” on the web, eye tracking studies show that they tend to skip it. That means users are not likely to absorb that material, or leave the page with any key takeaways. In this instance, the content is not serving its core purpose. 

Research shows that even college-educated adults prefer an easier online read. This point comes down to readability and your content’s ability to engage your audience. Complex content leads to higher bounce rates, poor site analytics, lower search rankings and lower conversion rates. 

Digital writing also ensures that content is accessible to all readers, regardless of reading level or ability, and that it is digestible across multiple screen sizes.

10 golden rules of writing for the web

Whether you want to write more effective online content, or better understand the strategy behind your marketing team’s work, these 10 tips cover the essential rules of digital writing. They are presented in a short, concise manner with subheads that make it easy to skim and scan – a perfect example of rule no. 4.

Use active voice

Active voice is much more powerful, actionable and effective for your audience – especially when you are writing with a conversion point in mind. Active voice also helps keep your content more concise. For example, you cut nearly half of the words by using ‘We wrote the blog’ instead of ‘The blog was written by our team.’

Write for an 8th grade reading level

This point is surprising for many people, and there are many reasons behind it. First, the goal is to make your content accessible for all reading levels, which is especially important for government agencies and institutions like hospitals. When you write so that people in grade 8 or below can understand, you can ensure that 85 percent of the population can access your content.

Use bulleted lists

Bullets help break up key ideas and make your content easy to skim and scan. They also make your content more effective, because users can easily find the information that addresses their question or need without getting lost on the page.

Incorporate H2 subheads

These serve to break up your page content and make it easier to skim and scan, just like bulleted lists. But the H2s also do double duty: They factor into search engine algorithms to help signal what your content is about. It’s important to write H2s in a strategic way so they include keywords and phrases.

Omit jargon

Use common words and phrases that are easier for people to understand. Industry jargon and undefined acronyms will make your content inaccessible or confusing to many people. (You don’t want people using Google search to understand your blog).

Write short paragraphs

Aim for 3-4 sentences in each paragraph, so you avoid “walls of text.” If you can’t imagine why long blocks of text may be difficult to read, thinking about your content will appear on a small mobile device versus your large computer screen. A paragraph even 6-7 sentences long would easily flood the screen without line breaks.

Use the terms that real people use

Using conversational or spoken language can also help your content resonate with people and even perform better in organic search. Consider the surgeon who insists that his practice website say “cardiac surgery” instead of “heart surgery.” Google Trends data shows that “heart surgery” is by far the most common phrase that people actually use, and would put the practice content more in line with how its patients speak.

Add links effectively

Include links to help users learn more, find relevant content and dig deeper (if they want to). Make sure that off-site links open in a new tab, and avoid using general wording for links, such as “learn more.” Not only is it not a great user experience (you’re giving the user no indication of where the link goes) but it’s also a violation of accessibility best practices. Write, “Learn more about how to book a course” versus just “Learn more.”

Apply the ‘Inverted Pyramid’

The inverted pyramid is a writing strategy utilized by journalists that puts the most important information at the top, and then fills in supporting details from there. Don’t hide key facts or answers from your audience. Put them up top, bold them and organize them under clear headings.

Don’t write long

It’s actually easier to write long. Crafting content that is clear and concise is more challenging bcause it takes time to choose the right words to maximize efficiency. But since most users will only read about 20 percent of your content, it’s in your best interest to keep it short, sweet and effective. Think about the key information they need and the action you need them to take on the page, and structure the content from there.

©2023 Huck Strategies, LLC