5 Common Web Writing Mistakes

magnifying glassWhen was the last time you read an entire web page? Probably never.

That’s because we read websites differently than we read print. When we use the web, we are scanning for specific information. We are looking for an answer to a question, and anything that isn’t relevant is in the way.

When we read on the web, instead of reading the text from beginning to end, our eyes quickly scan the page for keywords, headlines, or links that will give us the information we need, and we ignore everything else. If we can’t quickly find what we’re looking for, we go somewhere else.

That’s why writing for the web is so different than writing for a print publication. Here are five problems to avoid when writing web content.

1. Too much text.

Nobody takes the time to read through long paragraphs of text online. Paragraphs and sentences should be short and to the point, and information should be organized into discrete chunks, using headlines or links. Get rid of as many words as you can until the message is clear, simple, and to the point.

2. Use of unfamiliar terms.

Jargon confuses the reader. Terms that may be clear to employees may not be clear to the average user. The titles of links should be clear and easy to understand.

3. No way to quickly start key activities.

Forms and key activities should be easy to find and accessible from the home page.

4. Lack of organization. 

The path to find answers to your questions should be intuitive and logical. Users shouldn’t have to think about which link to click.

5. Busy home page.

The home page should include a title, a tagline, and a brief paragraph explaining your site if necessary. The home page should be a launching pad to help users quickly find the page they need. If you provide a link to everything directly from the home page, it becomes too cluttered and frustrates users.

The bottom line: don’t assume anyone is going to actually read your website. Instead make sure users can quickly scan it to find key information.

Ignore the Negativity and Start Freelance Writing

Have you noticed a sense of negativity toward new freelance writers from established writers and editors? I’ve seen it again and again. On blogs and networking sites, some writers are downright prickly, not to mention discouraging.

Here’s an example from a freelance writing discussion board. A new writer introduced himself as a newbie writer and asked the group for advice on how to start a freelancing career. The response from writers in the group? Don’t.

no entryYou will find lots of people who will tell you not to bother pursuing writing as a career if you’re just starting out – they will cite competition from out-of-work journalists, the poor economy, the dying field of journalism, content mills that pay pennies for an article. But the truth is, now is the perfect time to pursue writing – the Internet provides boundless opportunities for writers.

Think of all the people in the world who have access to the Internet. There are billions of web pages, and thousands more are added every day. Think of all the companies who have a web presence, and all the small businesses that don’t have a web presence but need one. All of these companies need high quality content to continually engage readers and drive traffic back to their sites.

If you want to get paid for writing, opportunities are out there. You just need to go out and get them. I’ll be writing more on this site about concrete steps for landing work, but I suspect many of you may already know how. There is no secret for finding work, despite what some writing sites claim. The only trick is to just start trying, and to keep trying. And most importantly, don’t give up.

If you love to write and you want to make a living with your writing, you owe it to yourself to try. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.