We’ve been programmed to follow traditional academic writing standards through most of our childhood and adult lives. There’s a time and place for an academic voice and the classic format: a thesis, a body with supporting information, and a conclusion.
Snore. Is this the best format for web reading? Definitely not! The Nielson Norman Group conducted research on how people read articles online, and it’s very different from how most of us read text on paper.
People tend to scan through web content, seeking out the most relevant information. If you’re going to be successful with online writing, you need to learn how to break out of the traditional. Here are five tips for how to do it.
1. Compelling headlines
Take a look at the Huffington Post, Forbes, and Cracked for some excellent examples of creative headlines and formats. They include direct statements that are sometimes shocking and confrontational. However, these headlines distill the primary points of interest for readers. They provide information in an extremely condensed format.
Think about what makes you interested in your article. Why are you writing it? What’s the most intriguing point, and why would it be useful in your readers’ lives?
This is the crux of your article, and it should take the stage as your headline. Drill it down to just a handful of words: Keep it short and snappy.
2. Hook ’em right away
This is a principle ripped right out of journalism school. Your introduction, or lead, needs to grab the reader’s attention and pull him through the entire article. You want to make the reader so curious that he or she reads and even click on your supporting links. But how do you manage to be so compelling? Here are a few methods.
What question does your article strive to answer? Write that question down and stick it in your lead. Does your story uncover some surprising and unusual facts? Write that down as your lead. Does your article build toward some kind of climax? Snag some of the most intriguing lines and include it within your lead.
You want the reader to experience inescapable curiosity; you want the person to feel compelled to read on.
3. Snag readers with subheadings
Remember writing catchy subheadings back in your old high school and college essays? No? That’s probably because we weren’t taught to do this.
The standard academic essay doesn’t include eye-catching subheadings. This might work for paper media, but you’ll leak blog traffic when readers hit a wall of text.
There’s even an Internet meme that criticizes text overload online: Too Long Didn’t Read, or “tl;dr.” You want to avoid this reaction at all costs.
Subheadings aren’t just beneficial to your reader; they serve as an outline for the writer, and help to keep you on track. You’ll find that your own writing becomes more intentional as you write subheadings, which create a template for your upcoming blog post.
4. Engaging with media
You’ve got a compelling headline, lead, and subheadings. You’re ready to publish!
Well, hang on, we’re not through just yet. You’ll notice that some of the most interesting online content includes images; they may be color charts, infographics, meme images, or a viral video. Ever wonder why children tend to gravitate toward picture books as they learn to read?
Our brains crave variety: It’s hard to stay engaged with an article if you’re staring at text. Business listings at ForLocations attract viewers with riveting graphics, for example. Media use can greatly improve your website’s traffic, conversion, and retention rates.
Ready to get your hands dirty and break out of the traditional writing mode? Test out bold new headlines, leads, subheadings, and media. Use your blog’s analytics tools to see how readers respond and repeat your success!