• Motorburn
      Because cars are gadgets
    • Gearburn
      Incisive reviews for the gadget obsessed
    • Ventureburn
      Startup news for emerging markets
    • Jobsburn
      Digital industry jobs for the anti 9 to 5!

10 sacred commandments for writing better online content

Do you want your articles to spread like Gangnam online? You’d better master the art of capturing the micro-attention of your readers. For a bit of help with what that might entail, I went up to Mount Table, and asked those on high for help. I came back with these some commandments. Fortunately they’re not written on stone tablets (so old school since the iPad, really) so we can remix them if and when we need to.

1. Craft a compelling headline

A catchy headline can make all the difference to the success of an article. Content startup UpWorthy has gained millions of readers based on their ability to rewrite headlines about serious and important issues in a catchy, web-friendly way. If you want your content to spread online it is worthwhile to dedicate extra time to crafting an enticing headline.

2. Start with the most important content

Summarize the point of your article in the first paragraph of a story, because many readers will only get that far. Be specific in this summary, and try to add immediate value.

3. A post should always be as short as it needs to be

Beware the ever-shrinking attention span of your reader! Even in super-short form web-publishing formats like the Facebook status it has been proven that posts with less characters get shared more. In longer formats like articles and blog posts your article should be compelling from beginning to end. Usually the easiest way to achieve this is to simply write shorter articles. There are a few masters who can hold reader attention for long-pieces on the internet. Those writers and those pieces become the stuff of web legend.

4. Where a picture will say more than words, use it

It’s worth spending the time to select the picture that will bring your writing to life. Also, a good caption to a picture is as important as a good picture for the story. I’ve learned from using Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook that a fairly ordinary photograph can become a conversation point by accompanying it with a caption. You could, for example use the caption to draw the viewer’s attention to a particular aspect of the picture, or to help them see the picture differently.

5. Format for the skim-reader

The skim-reader is not a lesser being. The skim-reader is half your audience! Use formatting such as sub-headings, bold, italic, underlined, and bullet points to help content stand out for skim-readers and search engines.

6. Be specific

If you are vague online, you will lose your reader. Also, using specific language is a great way to get search traffic on different search terms. For example, instead of just saying “the horse” every time you mention it in your article, you might try “the Arabian thoroughbred”.

7. Cite your sources

Use hyperlinks to reference points that may require back-reading or validation. This is part of enhancing the user experience of your article. It helps build trust and interest in the issue you’re writing about.

8. Tight prose wins

Editing for clarity and simplicity, down to the sentence-structure level will make a difference. On the web, full-stops tend to beat commas and semi-colons. Rather break a long, complex sentence filled with commas and semi-colons into a few shorter sentences. Also, take care to craft a few take-out sentences that social media readers can use to summarize highlights when they are sharing your article. While you’re at it, eliminate clichés.

9. Check before you publish

It’s very difficult, and embarrassing to try to retract misinformation or grammatical mistakes once your post is live on the web – particularly on Twitter and Facebook where your post can be quoted and shared on profiles and pages that you don’t control. Even if you might lose the scoop by taking a little bit longer to confirm your facts, it is better in the long run to gain the trust of your readers.

10. Encourage commentary

Your work as a writer online doesn’t end when your article is published. You should share your writing on your own social channels, and also participate in the commentary around it. People are encouraged to comment when the writer responds and acknowledges their contribution.

The commenters may not be experts in the subject you’re writing about (although they could be). They may even be completely clueless about the issue. However, their opinions on a subject can be indicative of public perception about an issue, and therefore very interesting and relevant. The comments are often as interesting as the main piece.

This article by Dave Duarte originally appeared on Daveduarte.co.za and is republished with permission.

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