Lede (lead), transitions, closing – check. Sound research, supporting facts, eye-catching headline – check. Full editing checklist – completed. You’ve got the perfect web article. It’s going to gain thousands of hits, right? One question: how does it look?
Writing for the web is different than writing for print publications. Magazine articles have a lot of help to look pretty for the reader. On the net, many pieces are like the ugly duckling – inside there is a bevy of beauty, but no one can get past the outside. The majority of articles need to be visually appealing for readers to click, stay and link.
When people pick up a magazine they often go straight to the headline story that captured their attention, but they are mentally ready to settle in for a good long read. People read web articles with a different mindset. These people hop on the net, look for information/news and once found, they scan for important points and main ideas. They don’t want to give a lot of time to a piece unless it’s critically important or if they are in deep research mode – like in the case of government conspiracies or celebrity sex tapes.
Admit it, you’ve clicked on an article only to see paragraph after long paragraph of words and thought, “Oh I don’t have time for this.” In fact, I’d wager people do it more often than they care to admit, which is why white space is needed.
White space refers to the paper or in this case, screen space people see when they look at a page. In other words, row after row of 20 sentence paragraphs – not appealing to the eye. It’s like your neighbor who takes off his shirt to mow the lawn only to expose his shirt made of human hair. Breaking up paragraphs into smaller bite size pieces is like giving your furry neighbor a shirt. The stuff’s still there but now it looks better.
Bullet points help as well. It tells the skimmer, “Here are the important points, cut up and chewed for you.”
Photos help break up all those pesky words and brighten up the piece. Take hairy neighbor again, put him in front of a wind machine, add a professional photographer and said neighbor becomes rugged and manly. Photos help illustrate the point and mood of the article.
Let’s face it writers, while most people know words and reading are necessary, most don’t value them as much as we do. Look at this period . Isn’t it beautiful? A beautiful dot that represents so much – a pause, a finished thought or if you have three of them … an unfinished thought. Literary ants marching to the next set of words if you will… We appreciate it. Everyone else? Slap a shirt on it so they are not bored or horrified.
Visual appeal in web writing is nearly as important as the words. Beautifully crafted and executed articles with great visual appeal are sure to land more hits and links than boring pages full of dense text. Take a look at your pieces to make sure they look as wonderful as they read.
Christina Crowe @ Cash Campfire says
Great tips. I always try to include at least one photo on all of my blog articles. It makes the post easier to read and more enjoyable. Often, I put up two photos that relate to the content.
I’ve also found that lists or separating the article up into headlines help with visual appeal. Bolding the first sentence of each list item also does wonders, and readers will be able to skim through the important stuff (since the first sentence is usually the most important in a list).
This is not only relevant to the web, but to all articles, features, brochures, annual reports, you name it.
When I pull out my “dog and pony” collection of capital campaign case brochures, magazine articles, marketing materials and books, I make it a point to choose the prettiest. Why? Because even intelligent editors look at beautiful four-color images and glossy, heavy stock and say “wow, this looks great!”
In other words, potential clients can be sold on your worth as a writer on the basis of the work of a graphic designer.
Absurd? Yes. Human nature? You bet.
Hey Lisa, you are absolutely right! I When clients come to me about their brochures the first thing they talk about is how their current brochure looks bad. THEN they talk about how it reads!
One reason I specifically mentioned web content is because there isn’t much restriction on word length or an arts department coming behind the writer to spruce it up a bit. It’s just the writer and how many words they feel like filling the page up with and sometimes we don’t need that kind of freedom LOL! Thanks for the wise words!
Love your sense of humor!
I always try to add at least one photo for each blog post. It seems so blank without it. I don’t mind the absence of pics when I’m reading news and opinion articles, however for something entertaining it always helps to break up the monotony by throwing in a pic or two.