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Writing for the Web: 4 Key Differences to Writing for Offline Media

The Covid-19 pandemic has propelled the trend of online consumption to new heights.

We now turn to the internet for every want, need, and question.

But the internet as a marketplace is very different to the traditional marketplace, and its important to understand these differences if you’re writing for the web.

If you’re writing for the web to sell your services, you should consider that…

🤔 The web was not created as a commercial medium

➡️ you should use it to inform, not sell

🤔 Your customers are also your marketers

➡️ you shouldn’t over-promise, they hold you accountable

🤔 You are writing to an alert, task-oriented audience

➡️ you should help them find what they’re looking for

🤔 Online prospects demand relevance quickly

➡️ you shouldn’t keep them guessing or bore them

So, let’s look at these 4 points in more detail…

1. The web was not created as a commercial medium – use it to inform, not sell

Since its inception, the web has primarily been about connecting and sharing information, views, and opinions.

This medium belongs not to the businesses but to its users, which is why it’s absolutely critical that your website is user-centric.

Nobody likes to read or watch ads. Nobody likes to feel like they’re being marketed to.

People read and watch things that interest them, things that inform, inspire, or entertain – if you’re really good – all three.

So, when you’re writing for the web, think about your target audience. Think about their wants, needs, and questions, and offer them something – inspire them, entertain them, or teach them something new.

Connect with them, talk about their problems, show them that you understand their problems and then show them how you can help.

Consider the following two blurbs taken from GIS company websites:

Now let’s consider how they’re different…

ABC, on the left, focusses on, well, ABC. They talk about all the things they can offer and all the great clients that they’ve worked for. No mention of the problems they help businesses find solutions to.

XYZ, on the other hand, put everything they say into the context of the problems that their solution will help to overcome.

Anyone who is deeply familiar with GIS will understand that the solutions ABC are offering could be used to overcome the same issues that XYZ illustrate, but those searching for GIS solutions online are likely not GIS experts themselves, hence their search.

These two snippets are examples to illustrate the overarching point: make your website about your reader, use it to help them understand their problem, teach them about it, give them context, and guide them in their choice of different approaches to a solution.

Don’t make them feel stupid by using words and explanations they might not be familiar with just to sound smart.

And don’t jump straight to the solution before the reader has even had a chance to identify whether you understand their problem.

2. Your customers are also your marketers – and they hold you accountable

In traditional marketing materials like print media, radio, and TV, you can make pretty much any claim you like without fearing retribution from your clients.

The internet is different.

You’re far more likely to be called out on something you say, and your customers can rate and review your business publicly on various platforms.

This has pros and cons.

If you meet, or even surpass, your clients’ expectations, chances are they’ll rave about you (which equals free marketing and social proof).

But, if you make claims that you don’t deliver on, or your customers have a negative experience, they’re very likely to share those stories with the world too (with potentially detrimental consequences for your business).

What that means is that businesses are held accountable in the online marketplace, and excellent customer experiences are more important than ever.

Remember that people might not remember how much something cost, but they’ll never forget what kind of experience they had while engaging with your business.

3. You are writing to a task-oriented audience – help them find what they’re looking for

Compared to traditional marketing media, people are much more engaged when they’re online.

(Nobody really pays attention to the ads on TV interrupting their favourite show, but they’re definitely paying attention when searching for a solution or product online).

So, you must make the reader’s journey through your website interesting, relevant, and easy to follow.

Unlike with the inescapable ads at the cinema before the movie starts, nobody is forced to engage with your website. So you’ve got to make them want to be there!

How? When writing for the web, consider the following…

Relevance – make your website relevant to your readers by helping them find the answer to their question or problem. To do this well, it’s critical to really understand your audience’s needs – to meet them at their stage of awareness, and then offer them genuine guidance.

Trust – think about why your readers should trust you (after all, there’s probably plenty of competition). Then seek to ease any doubts they may have by providing elements of social proof, if you can.

Authenticity – to truly connect with your audience, you must set yourself apart from your competition. If a reader has 10 different websites open about your service or product, you want to be the one they remember the next day when they resume their search. Many businesses say what they think everyone wants to hear but, in doing so, they lose the authenticity that could help them stand out.

Consider these examples:

Most of these GIS website headlines focus on what they offer (GIS solutions, GIS services). Some provide abstract promises like “simplifying geography” (now what exactly does that mean?), or “discover clarity through geography” (ironically, rather vague).

We figure that since our readers are looking for solutions, the use of the word “solutions” should attract their attention, right?

But such buzzwords have lost all meaning through their overuse.

Now consider this headline:

Now we’re getting to the crux of what a GIS consultant can really offer – the actual solution.

This benefit-oriented headline stands out from the sea of same for two reasons. Firstly, because its different (making it more memorable already). And, secondly, because it paints the reader a picture of what their situation will look like if they choose to work with this company. That’s so much more tangible than the prospect of ‘GIS solutions’.

4. Online prospects demand relevance quickly – don’t keep them guessing

Online customers have no patience for related but not directly relevant content.

If it’s not immediately clear that they’ve come to the right place, they’ll hit the back button.

Why?

Because time is a precious commodity and we have very short attention spans, it’s as simple as that.

Nobody wants to read an entire paragraph, let along navigate through various sub-pages, to figure out whether they’ve come to the right place.

Therefore, it’s very important to be clear in your writing and structure.

Consider this drop-down menu under the heading “Geo-Solutions”:

It’s overwhelming to say the least, and chances are that a reader won’t have the time to navigate through all available sub-pages to see whether the company might be able to help.

Summary

In a nutshell, the internet belongs to the users, and to leverage it for your business, you must make everything your put out there relevant for them! When writing for the web, you should:

  • Meet them at their stage of awareness (don’t talk about the solutions before they’ve had a chance to verify their problem)
  • Use their words (don’t use overly complex technical terms or phrases that could confuse your readers – remember they’re probably not experts in the field)
  • Don’t make it all about your business (while its tempting to write about all the things you can offer and all the other people you’ve helped, your readers probably don’t care all that much, at least not initially)
  • Don’t overwhelm with details (your readers primarily care about whether you understand their problem and whether you can help them overcome it, how exactly you do that is usually secondary)
  • Don’t be afraid to be authentic (if you sound like everybody else, you won’t stand out)
  • Don’t overpromise (remember, your clients are also your marketers, so don’t make claims on your website that could lead to disappointed clients)

Considering these points when writing for the web might just be one of the most profitable things you can do in your business.

If you have any questions or need help writing website copy for your business, please check out our Ultimate Guide to SEO Copywriting in 2022, or get in touch with us under [email protected]

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