7 Ways to Keep Your Online Audience Reading
Here’s the thing: Everyone can write but not everyone is a writer. No matter what kind of freelancer/solo-preneur you are or how big or small your business is, chances are high that you do a fair bit of online writing for your freelance business.
At the heart of it, writing is communicating. And the secret to effective communication online is the presentation. Here are a few tips to help you write for an online audience. Once you get the hang of it, writing for the Web is easy.
Recommended Reading: Tips And Tricks For Writing Fast (And Professionally!)
There are just a few things you should keep at the back of your head when writing, things like:
1. formatting For Clarity
When writing for the Web, it’s considered an offense if the text is not formatted properly. After all, reading long blocks of text is taxing. Nobody has the time to slow down and read. We all scan and skim online.
How to fix it:
Write short sentences for better impact. Try to limit your sentences to 15-20 words at most. Even one-word sentences and paragraphs are acceptable online.
Next, break your text into shorter paragraphs. Three sentence paragraphs are the norm but 5 sentence paragraphs are acceptable too. Make sure you mix them up with long and short sentences though!
If your text requires a lot of items that you separate with a comma, break them into lists or bullet points. Use sub-headings to help guide the reader through your text. Sub-headings give readers the gist of the text at a glance. It helps them absorb more information faster.
2. Writing in passive voice
It’s so easy to write in passive voice that most writers don’t even realize they’re writing in the passive voice. Unfortunately, writing in passive voice is murder for online writing. It doesn’t speak to your reader.
Here’s an example of a sentence in the passive voice, "The freelancer was hired by us." Here’s how we say it in active voice, "We hired the freelancer."
Now imagine reading both these sentences in, let’s say, an email. Which one sounds better?
How to fix it:
I can give you the technical explanation of how the subject in the sentence performs the action expressed in the verb but that’s just confusing and hard to remember when writing. Writing in active voice comes down to creating that connection with your reader.
Instead of referring to yourself or your audience in the third person, write to them in first person. Imagine yourself having a conversation with someone while writing.
3. Wrong sentence length
Most of the time, non-writers give themselves away by their sentence length. Online, readers scan. This means that if your sentences are too long to scan, your reader will stop reading and move on.
Any sentence over 25 words – and that’s a very generous word count, loses readers’ interest. Imagine reading one sentence after another that is too long to read in a single breath. Just thinking about it is tiring, right?
Let’s do a quick test. Go to any online content you’ve written and randomly check the word count of your sentences. If quite a few of those sentences are between 20-25 words, you have a problem.
How to fix it:
Fixing this is very easy. All you have to do is break your text down to smaller sentences. Explore one thought, point or idea per sentence.
Make sure the sentence length is between 16-20 words maximum for the optimum reading experience. It’ll be even better if you can manage shorter sentences.
Make sure your sentence length varies. Too many short sentences and the text becomes abrupt. Too many long sentences and it becomes tedious to read. Mix up the length of your sentences for a better reading experience.
4. Not having flow
One of the most popular writing advice (probably of all time) is: The purpose of your first sentence is go get the reader to read the second sentence and so on.
While the quality of writing is very important for that point, the flow and structure of said writing matters a lot too.
If your writing is not structured and is displayed in a haphazard manner, your reader will wonder what point you’re trying to make.
How to fix it:
Organize your writing into a structure and make it flow logically. Start with the introduction, then move down, stating all your points before summarizing them all in the conclusion.
Format your writing for the Web. Use short paragraphs and only explore one idea in it, use sub-headings, lists, etc. to make it easier to read.
5. Not respecting your readers
When writing for an audience, it’s so important to respect your reader. Just as in a face-to-face conversation, we show our respect by being friendly, respectful, and not talking down to them.
To be honest, there’s a very fine line between respecting your readers and insulting them. Sometimes being overly helpful can backfire too.
Take online tutorials for example. If you simplify them too much and explain every single thing, you run the risk of undermining your readers’ skills. If you don’t, you risk alienating your readers who might not find your tutorial helpful enough.
How to fix it:
Define your ideal reader and write for him. Taking the tutorial example a little further, if your target reader is a beginner, detailed tutorials that explain every little thing might be the way to go. If your readers are well-versed, then simply pointing them in the right direction would be enough.
For tutorials and all other types of online writing, make sure your writing comes across as friendly and doesn’t make your reader feel like you’re talking down to them.
Using ‘You’ and ‘Your’ are great ways to make your readers feel like you’re talking specifically to them, but make sure you don’t get patronizing.
6. No call-to-action
Web writing is all about convincing your reader to take action after reading your content. It could be something as simple as them leaving a comment or as complex as them trusting you enough to buy something from you.
If there’s no call-to-action in your writing, how will they know what you want them to do? Or why you’ve written the content?
Include a call-to-action at the end of your content. If you’re writing a blog post, ask them to share their thoughts, let you know if they agree or disagree or ask them to leave a comment outright.
Inviting readers to share your content through social media is a call-to-action too. If you want them to buy something, or sign up for a newsletter, etc., let them know by adding a ‘Buy now’ or ‘Sign up here’ call-to-action.
7. Improving your Reach
At the heart of it, it’s as simple as formatting your text, writing in an active voice, having a call-to-action and above all – respecting your reader. The good thing about writing is that once you know what to watch out for, it’s simple to improve.
Recommended Reading: Writing For The Web: Tips & Common Mistakes We Make
Start by practising the above in your emails. For other forms of online writing, write as you usually do but take the time to proofread and edit it with these tips in mind. After a few times, these mistakes will jump out at you as you write and before you know it, your writing would have improved!