3 Keys to Effective Web Writing…for Writers

I hear you, I hear you. You’re an author—writing is, well, kind of your thing. But web writing is a different prospect altogether. When telling the story in your book, you have the luxury of working to create understanding and affinity over several chapters (which is generally when someone decides to drop the book or keep… [Read More]

3 keys to effective web writing for authors by Tyler Doornbos for

I hear you, I hear you. You’re an author—writing is, well, kind of your thing. But web writing is a different prospect altogether. When telling the story in your book, you have the luxury of working to create understanding and affinity over several chapters (which is generally when someone decides to drop the book or keep with it).

On the web, however, it’s a different story. You have mere seconds before many users will decide to pop off and check something out. It doesn’t matter if its a landing page, homepage, blog or book listing. You have to grab their attention and hold it.

To do that, I have 3 key strategies that will help you build a rapport quickly with your audience, and persuade them to stick around to learn more.

1. Keep Your Web Writing Simple & Scannable

Websites and apps are a dime a dozen, and people have been conditioned to scan through content by sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. With that experience, most readers on the web are highly adept at ignoring most content that doesn’t grab them. If yours doesn’t appeal, they can simply move onto the next one. That means you need to strategically design content to be scanned. Writing a book on a website doesn’t work—ever.3 keys to effective web writing for authors by Tyler Doornbos for

When the user’s eyes are moving quickly, they are going to start with the headlines. This means that you need to start with headlines that are very descriptive, and that are differentiated from the text visually. (See my previous article about Author Website Design for Non-Designers.)

For an example, see my headings in this article—numbered, clearly labeled, and designed to stop your eye on the section that makes the most sense for you.

3 keys to effective web writing for authors by Tyler Doornbos for

Heatmap tracking can help understand how people use your page

BONUS! If you write them well, these headings will also help you with your SEO and will assist in being found in natural search (though that’s a topic for another day).

Don’t forget that lists (numbered and bulleted) and white space are your friends also! They break up text and make it easier to scan. 

Also, don’t try to be too clever. Users on your site are on the hunt, and they only want to know what will help them achieve their objective. VERY seldom does cute or clever content help a web user achieve their objectives. They are NOT at your site to waste their time—at least not at first. You have to hook them before they’ll be willing to sit through a long blog post or download and read your eBook sample.

Finally, don't hesitate to measure the effectiveness of your content! You can use cheap, effective apps like Hotjar (shown above) to track users' movements through the sites, clicks, and more, allowing you to see what content is effective, arresting, and driving conversion. Other free or inexpensive tools to better understand your traffic and site usage include Google Analytics and CrazyEgg. (Learn more in my previous article, Website Analytics for Indie Authors: Understanding Your Traffic.)

As the adage goes, what gets measured gets managed—and you need to make sure you're on top of optimizing content for your site on an ongoing basis.

2. Use the Inverted Pyramid to Make Your Web Content Persuasive

The inverted pyramid is the way to organize your content. It’s pretty simple:

Broad and important ideas → Top of the page

Specific ideas → Lower on the page

In theory, so simple. In practice, that means that you first need to understand what content your user is going to be most interested in and place that higher on the page. It’s great to start with the broadest ideas and work from there, but you can get much more scientific about it.

3 keys to effective web writing for authors by Tyler Doornbos for

Adapted from:

For an author, you might start with the things that are important to prospective and current readers: what type of books to do you write? Who recommends them (e.g. bestselling status, Kirkus starred, etc.)? What are your latest releases?

After that, you can follow up with information that is much less important to readers: your bio, upcoming events, and appearances, 

I always liken this idea to finding love:

Do you ask someone to marry you the moment you meet them? Probably not. (Maybe some weirdo out there does, I guess, but come on, man, you’re making people uncomfortable.) Instead, you start with coffee, followed by dinner or a movie, and, after a time, you get more serious.

Just like the content on your website, if you hit them with intense detail and something they’re not yet interested in, they’re probably going to leave the site, or in the case of your marriage proposal, kick you in the shins and run away.

And either way, you’ll deserve it.

3. Text is NOT Enough—The Web is About Holistic Content

The truth is, no matter how hard you try, a website full of text only isn’t going to grab the attention of visitors. Web users expect multimedia content, and in the hierarchy of attention, non-text content grabs the hardest.

See below:

3 keys to effective web writing for authors by Tyler Doornbos for

You’ll see that image and motion are always hierarchically superior to static text. We notice them first on a page, they grab us, without saying a word.

That’s why you can’t rely only on good writing—you need to think about your web writing in the context of CONTENT. How does what you’re writing support the entire page? Does it validate the image or video that caught the user’s eye? Does it further explain the infographic that made them take a moment to think? How does it contribute to the overall organization of the page? 

On the web, you can’t isolate the parts of your site—they all work together to achieve the objective of selling more books, building your fanbase, and helping you find success as an Indie author.

YOUR TURN! What are your best tips for web writing? Have you created a page that you're particularly proud of? Share in the comments!

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6 thoughts on “3 Keys to Effective Web Writing…for Writers”

  1. Wendy says:

    “Use inverted content.” No WONDER I find so many articles that take forever to get to the point. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across an article like “3 Ways to Use Garlic” and had to wade through paragraphs and paragraphs about how good garlic is before finding the “3 Ways” the author promised. IF I got to it.

    Pet peeve #2: Yes, graphs, and charts are helpful. Photos CAN help, or they can just be a waste of bandwidth. Digging up a stock photo of a McDonald’s just because you have a story about something that happened at your local McDonald’s is pointless fluff (Tom said swiftly). Too many webwriters are using graphics to pad their articles like they’re back in college English writing a 5,000-word-minimum paper–do they think they’re getting paid by how many swipes the reader has to make to get to the end of the article/page? (I’ve actually managed to use trackpads to destruction.) Edit your graphics as ruthlessly as your text.

    And what novelist (besides an established best-selling one who can rely on author brand) can afford several chapters to hook a reader these days?

    1. I’d argue that recipe articles are almost all guilty of not using the inverted content method, but rather padding articles with banal stories in order to improve organic search. Genuinely using the method is providing useful content that helps a user understand the broad strokes before they have to wade into the minutia. If the content isn’t useful at both ends of the pyramid, you’re not doing it right.

      Just for laughs:

      Agreed that photos should be edited ruthlessly — if they don’t add to the text or draw the user to specific, useful content, they are just irritating.

      Thanks for your feedback!

  2. Yes!! Those recipe blogs, my goodness, I was trying to roast an acorn squash the other day and I had to wade through reams of content (and ads, and videos), just to find the basic cooking instructions.

    It’s a little sad, really, how short our attention spans are nowadays for online reading. But I’m as impatient as the next reader: I love anything arranged as a list, with clear headings. And the less clutter from widgets, adverts, and sidebar “features”, the more likely I am to stick around.

    1. Spot on — too many sites ruin the experience and even usefulness of the site with fluff content and ads. Site owners have to make money somehow, of course, but there is definitely a balance to be struck.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Skipper Hammond says:

    Please explain just how a cup of coffee is “broader” than a marriage proposal. Perhaps you are confusing categories.

    1. The coffee vs marriage analogy is simply intended to illustrate that you should ease your reader into the specifics, in the same way that you work up to marriage (ideally) 🙂

      “Broader” refers to content, not coffee. Apologies if that wasn’t clear!

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