Writing web content that establishes credibility and benefits readers is totally doable. You just need to follow the right steps to make your writing better.
How does better writing differ from so-so writing or even good writing? Well, for a start, it shows evidence of planning, it has a clear structure, and it has been edited.
Writing web content that works involves effort, but it’s not rocket science. If you divide your work into smaller steps, then your text will be easier to plan, write, and edit.
The graphic below summarizes what I’m going to share in this post. In each step, you’ll find explanations and tips to help you improve your writing.
The steps here are general, so adapt the list for your needs and/or your site (e.g., suggest multiple titles, include images, write a meta description, etc.).
If you want to see details about a step, then click below to jump directly to that section. Then, once you’ve finished with this post, view our digital editing checklist.
- Decide on Your Purpose
- Plan Your Structure
- Write Body Text (Each Section)
- Draft Intro and Conclusion
- Edit for Clarity
- Check Concision
- Fix Grammar and Spelling
- Publish (and Smile)
Writing Web Content That Works: An 8-Step Process
Step 1: Plan Your Purpose
One of the keys to writing web content that works is better planning. (Or planning at all.)
I’m assuming that you’ve got your topic already—for example, lifestyle tips, breeds of rabbit, or types of baseball pitches. I’m also assuming that you’ve done your keyword research.
So now you have to decide what the purpose of your post is. Are you trying to inform, explain, persuade, or entertain? Or a combination of these?
In other words, what do you want people to do when they read your post? Nod in agreement? Leave a comment? Sign up for your newsletter or buy your product?
Only when you know what you’re trying to achieve with your writing can you flesh out the post. If your post doesn’t have a purpose, then you just have a bunch of words.
Step 2: Plan Your Structure
When you write for the web, good structure is essential.
Divide your post into sections. (Think “outline”from high school English class.) Then give each section a clear title and tag each section title logically—for example, h1, h2, h3, etc.
What do I mean by “logically”? Well, you could tag every single section title as an h1, but I wouldn’t recommend it. (In fact, you should generally have only one h1 head in your post.)
Instead, use a parent-child relationship between your subheads: the four h2 heads in your post are the children of your h1 (the parent). For example, if your h1 is Michigan Apple Varieties, then your h2 heads fall under that category: Braeburn, Cortland, Empire, Fuji, etc.
The easiest way to plan the structure of your post is create a quick outline. “Bigger” section titles (the ones that are higher up in the hierarchy) are more general, while the “smaller” heads (the ones that are lower in the hierarchy) are more specific.
Using the apple example from above, we’d have the following outline:
Step 3: Write Body Text (Each Section)
Compose your text for each section. The easiest and quickest way to do this is to start with a topic sentence. For example, let’s say that one of your sections is called Twitter (because you’re writing a post about social media platforms).
Your topic sentence then might look like this:
As of June 2015, Twitter was the fastest-growing social media platform in the world.
(I don’t know if this is true, by the way—it’s just to illustrate the point.)
Then provide details that support your claim. Cite some statistics, for example, either linking to them or crediting their authors in your post.
In addition, everything in a section called Twitter should have to do with—wait for it—Twitter! Of course, you might sprinkle the names of other platforms into the section if you’re giving a comparison: Twitter beats Instagram when it comes to…
But in general, the focus in this section is about Twitter: number of users, number of tweets sent every day, advertising options, and so on. (Hey, these could even make good h3 heads…)
Step 4: Write Intro and Conclusion
After you write the body text (which is 90% of the writing task), draft an introduction and a conclusion. Let the rest of your post dictate what you say in your intro and conclusion—not the other way around.
Write the intro and closing last—they’re actually easier to write this way. Remember, you’re writing web content that positions you as an authority, and a well structured post helps that effort.
An introduction serves a few purposes:
- First, it lets readers know what to expect in your article. You’re essentially priming them to aid understanding.
- Second, a good introduction helps readers know if they’ve landed on the right page. Readers who read an introduction that is completely different from what they were searching for will be disappointed, confused, or annoyed.
- Third, it allows you to work in a keyword or two, which is important from an SEO standpoint.
A conclusion summarizes your main points. If a reader reads to the bottom of your post, then your well-written conclusion will reinforce the points you made. In addition, you can include your call to action here.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the various breeds of rabbit. For more rabbit news, sign up for our newsletter…
Step 5: Edit for Clarity
The revision process is crucial when writing web content. And good writing is clear writing.
There are a few reasons why your writing my not be clear. As yourself the following questions:
Is there any ambiguous text in my post?
Ambiguity (a word or phrase that can be interpreted in a few ways) leads to confusion. Consider the following:
Seeing her duck, the police officer ran toward her.
Did the woman lower herself quickly? Or was she carrying an animal with webbed feet?
Are the sequences in my post logical?
Mess up the timeline and you’ll lose your reader. Keep the sequence of events clear by using time-related words, which serve as “signposts” to readers. Words such as first and second as well as then, next, and last let your readers get their bearings.
Numbered lists are also great for describing processes (for example, baking a cake).
Are there transitions (and are they clear)?
When writing web content, use transition words. They help your readers get from one idea to the next.
- If you’re talking about a consequence, use words such as so, then, in this way, etc.
- For cause and effect, use because, for this reason, this is why, etc.
- If your sentence “changes direction,” you can use but, although, despite, still, etc.
- When you include details, you can use transition words such as another, for example, namely, in fact, etc.
- If you’re elaborating on a concept, try using also, what’s more, in addition, etc.
Have I included examples?
Nothing leaves me hanging quite like reading a post about an interesting topic only to see that the author hasn’t included a single example.
So help your readers out! Make things easy for them.
If you’re writing a post about how a bill becomes a law, then include an actual example: One example of the legislative process at work is the recent XYZ bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Jones and was approved by the Senate on Wednesday.
Have I used the right words?
Are your words precise? If your post is about horseback riding, saddle works much better than seat.
Experts usually don’t have a problem with terminology. They work with it every day—that’s one reason they’re experts!
But if you’re writing about a topic that’s not in your wheelhouse, you have extra research to do. So if you’re writing about on-page SEO, you need to call it on-page SEO, not SEO on the page or something like that.
And I speak from experience when I say that calling an interpreter a translator won’t endear you to either interpreters or translators.
Have I used language that’s too hard?
Here I’m talking both about vocabulary and sentence complexity. In general, if there’s no big difference in meaning between two words, then use the “easier” one (the one that more people understand). This comes down to knowing your audience.
For example, in my industry, using a term such as congruity judgment works only with other translators. If I’m talking to customers, though, I never talk about congruity judgments. Instead, I talk about accuracy.
Sentence length also has an effect on how easily your readers understand your text. When writing web content for a general audience, keep most sentences short (under 20 words). You can throw in a few long sentences for variety, but ultimately it’s up to you to decide whether that variety is important enough to make your readers’ brains work harder. (See what I did there?)
To see how to improve the readability of your text, see my recent post on the Yoast SEO plugin (specifically the section on the Flesch Reading Ease score).
Step 6: Edit for Concision
A key ingredient of web content writing is concision. In other words, you’re saying a lot in relatively few words.
But concise doesn’t mean short! For example, you can have a concise 50-word sentence—that is, it packs a lot of information into those 50 words. It can’t be edited down to 40 or 30 words without a loss in meaning.
You can also have a concise blog post that’s 3,000 words long. It’s a post where you say everything that you need to say in a way that’s as efficient as possible.
And that’s really the best way to describe concision. Concise writing is efficient writing.
If you’re a wordy birdie, then follow these steps when writing web content:
Combine long phrases into short phrases
Take the following two sentences, for example:
OK: XYZ Corp.’s support team is available by phone at any time of day or night to all Premium customers.
Better: At XYZ Corp., we offer 24/7 telephone support to all Premium customers.
The second one is more concise.
Favor nouns and verbs over adjectives and adverbs
In general, nouns and verbs are richer in content than adjectives and adverbs. (There are exceptions, of course. Your cooking blog may use a lot of adjectives to describe flavors, colors, and textures.)
In simple terms, focus on the things that you’re talking about (nouns) and what those things do (verb). You’ll end up with a very readable, content-rich post.
What’s wrong with adjectives and adverbs? Well, adjectives can be vague, whereas the right verb is highly evocative. Compare the following:
OK: Lisa was sad. (adjective; vague)
Better: Lisa was sobbing. (verb; clear)
As for adverbs, you can often delete them without any big loss in meaning, especially if your word choice is good:
OK: Lisa was very sad. (adverb with general adjective)
Better: Lisa was heartbroken. (no adverb, more specific adjective)
Use the active voice, not the passive voice
I won’t dwell too much here on definitions or examples, as I’ve covered them in previous posts. But in general, when writing web content (and even most print content), the active voice makes for stronger writing. The passive voice, by contrast, is preferable only in certain situations.
Delete “filler text”
Have you ever talked to someone who uses like, um, yeah, and you know constantly? Well, there’s an equivalent to that in writing. I just call it “filler text.” It adds no real value to the text; instead, it just takes up space.
One easy way to make your writing better is to rewrite There is […] that and There are […] that constructions.
OK: There are four major companies that are vying for control of the mobile phone market.
Better: Four major companies are vying for control of the mobile phone market.
See how the second one is more direct?
Here’s another one involving an impersonal construction:
OK: It’s important to recognize that anything worth doing is worth doing well.
What’s all that nonsense at the beginning? Just delete it! You’ll have a sentence that is more to the point and shorter to boot.
Better: Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
Last, when you give instructions, don’t add unnecessary words:
OK: Make sure that you clean your gutters at least once a year.
Better: Clean your gutters at least once a year.
Step 7: Edit for Correctness
Whoa, is correctness even a word? Yes. Now on to the important stuff.
Writing web content that reads well involves editing (what many people call proofreading). You don’t want to be that writer whose post contains a lot of mechanical errors. (English mechanics, not car mechanics.)
If your writing is littered with typos and grammatical errors, you’ll lose credibility. (While it’s true that some people don’t notice or don’t care about errors, why take the risk of alienating the people who do?)
Here’s what you can do if spelling and grammar aren’t your strong suits:
- Run your text through a spell- and grammar-check tool. Microsoft Word’s spellchecker will catch the easy stuff and help you save face. (Note that it can’t catch everything, though.)
- Read your text out loud. Reading aloud makes you slow down and read every word—something we don’t do when we read silently. I can almost guarantee that you’ll find double words (e.g., the the) and a typo or two.
- Have a colleague read your text. Even better than reading your text yourself is having a trusted colleague review your writing. Ask her specifically to look for typos, misspellings, missing words, and double words.
- Hire a copy editor. This may seem like a shameless plug. (I used to work as a copy editor and my company now offers editing services to businesses.) But the truth is—actually, this is a shameless plug! You see, sometimes you need to hire a professional. For example, my two-year-old once flushed a plastic cup down our toilet. After trying to fix it myself, I eventually caved and called a plumber. At 7 pm. On New Year’s Eve. The moral of the story? Don’t let my two-year-old near your toilet.
Step 8: Publish (and Smile)
You can relax now. The hard part’s done.
True, this “step” didn’t really need to be in the list. But isn’t this what it’s all about? If your goal while writing web content is to produce something that establishes credibility and helps readers, then this is the test. Will your articles editor accept your submission? Will people read your post and understand it?
Your post may not go viral, but I can promise you this: if you follow the steps above, then your writing will improve by leaps and bounds.
And that’s something to smile about.
Don’t want to use the DIY approach? Then check out which questions you should ask any potential web content editor.