10 Online Content Writing Rules

Sep 10th, 2013

Providing compelling content is the best way to attract website visitors and Search Engines alike. But how do you create content people actually like and want to read? What makes one article better than the other?
As with most things in life, successful online publishing is based on rules. And while this list makes no claims of being complete, here are my Top Ten Rules for Online Content Writing.

1. Make your point quickly:

The most important part(s) of your content should be at the very top: As a teaser, an excerpt (in WordPress) and as the meta description (for Search Engines).
Don’t make the visitor guess what the point of your article is. It’s an article, not a crime novel. There’s no need to develop the characters or to build the storyline: The average internet user’s attention span is way shorter than you think (Thanks to everyone who’s still reading!).

2. Break up your content into easily identifiable chunks:

Online users don’t read, they scan: By breaking up your content using sub-headers, lists or other visual “breakpoints” your readers can scan up and down to get to the most important information inside your article quickly.

3. Use short sentences:

Reading online is a lot more strenuous than reading an actual book (or anything else offline).
Make the reading process as easy as possible for your visitors and don’t over-complicate the structure of your content.

4. Use white space:

Give your visitors “room to breathe” in between paragraphs. Long text without any line breaks is a sure way to annoy (and lose) your reader(s). Otherwise you might as well be writing Greek.

Greek Text

5. Facts, facts, facts:

If you’re quoting someone or are referring to something (an article or a story on the news) in your content, always cite your source. Link to the original story and/or the original author. Give your readers the opportunity to do their own research.
(Unless you’re Google, because then you are the source.)
If you make a statement, provide reinforcements: research, studies, tests — anything that gives you (and your statement) credibility.

6. Use images or other visuals as reinforcements:

Pretty Pie Chart
Strategically positioned images inside long(er) articles not only break up the text, but they can also add credibility and value – as long as they are clearly related to the content.
Other great visuals are tables, pie (and other) charts or videos.

7. Visitor first, then SEO:

Search Engines don’t read your content, they only index it. Your website’s visitors are the ones who do the actual reading.
And if your content is so over-optimized that the meaning is completely lost, you have also lost your visitors.
Besides the fact that a Search Engine will never buy any of your products or services.

8. Lose the “one”:

One can write for an anonymous audience; but it’s always better to personalize one’s content by addressing the reader directly.
While you can write for an anonymous audience, it’s always better to personalize your content by addressing your readers directly.

9. Answer the “W” questions:

Who, when, where, why, what: Depending on your content, always answer the questions a new reader might have:
Who are you?
Why should I continue reading (or believe you)?
What happened?
Where did it happen?
When did this happen?
Where can I find more information?

10. Spell-check, proof-read, rinse, repeat:

Proper spelling and correct grammar are still (!) some of the most important factors when it comes to publishing (online or offline).
While texting and chatting have introduced shortcodes and abbreviations into our daily language, there’s nothing worse than spelling and grammatical errors in every sentence. Writing might not be for everyone, spell check is.
And rumor has it that Google even considers spelling and grammar as part of their ranking factors.

Helpful Links

Grammarly: “The World’s Best Grammar Checker”: Free online and premium (paid) version: http://www.grammarly.com/
dictionary.com: Dictionary, Thesaurus, and much more. http://dictionary.reference.com/
The Readability Test Tool: Find out how complex (or not) your content is. http://www.read-able.com

We would love to hear from you!

Do you have any additional rules? Pet peeves? Things that drive you crazy?
Let us know in the comments section below!

About the author:

Nina Khoury is a computer scientist, software engineer, data and information junkie and online marketer. She taught at various universities for more than six years and worked on projects for Fortune 500 companies including cisco, Intel and HP.

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