Writing for the Web: Part 1

Writing for the Web: Part 1

By Gerry McGovern

Writing for the Web is not the same as writing for print. People read differently on the Web. They scan read – jumping quickly from one piece of content to the next. People are much more action orientated on the Web. They get online to get something done. Words should always be driving actions.

Here are 10 rules for writing effective web content:


  1. Know your reader
  2. Take a publishing approach
  3. Keep content short and simple
  4. Write active content
  5. Put content in context
  6. Write for how people search
  7. Write great headings
  8. Write great summaries
  9. Write great metadata
  10. Edit. Edit. Edit.


This issue we’ll examine the first five rules.

1. Know your reader
All effective writing begins with knowing your reader. Write for your reader, not for your ego. Your reader is not everybody. The most effective writing is keenly focused on the specific needs of a clearly defined reader type. Is your reader a middle class, female American, with two kids, who lives in the suburbs?

Think like your reader thinks. Get to meet her. Once a month, talk to your reader. Read what she reads. Is there a common style and tone being used to reach her? Use it. Put a picture of your readers up on your wall. You shouldn’t have more than 3-5 core reader types.

2. Take a publishing approach
Publishing is about getting the right content to the right person at the right time at the right cost. It’s about getting and keeping attention with content. It’s about driving actions. Publishing is about selling with content.

Back around 1995, if you went to many airline websites, you found a big picture of an aeroplane on the homepage. Now, you will find a booking process and special offers. Killer content. The first thing publishers must get right is their killer content. What content do you have that will really drive actions? Put that on your homepage.

3. Keep content short and simple
In publishing, less is nearly always more. Remember, the one word that describes the scan reader is impatient. Here are some guidelines for the length of your content:

  • Headings: 8 words or less
  • Sentences: 15-20 words
  • Paragraphs: 40-70 words
  • Documents: 500 words or less


Get rid of all your fancy words. Get rid of your ego.Writing effectively is not about showing off. It’s about communicating. It’s about driving actions.Write simply. Get to the point. Then stop.

4.Write active content
The most powerful word in the English language is ‘YOU.’Write from the point of view of the reader. The reader has come to your website to do something.Your content should be written in an action orientated style. Every sentence should be moving them towards a purchase, a subscription, a solution.

5. Put content in context
The Web is about links and connections. Web content is classified and linked content. Never leave your reader at a dead-end on your website.

Be sure to look for “Writing for the Web: Part II”by Gerry McGovern in the next issue.

Gerry McGovern provides website content management solutions. For more information, please visit: http://www.gerrymcgovern.com/.



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