What you write online matters. It can make or break your business, and it can save or ruin your life. When you’re writing for the web, you’re not just writing for the sake of writing. You’re writing to communicate, and you’re writing to share. You’re writing to connect with others, and you’re writing to make your presence known. As you write, keep these things in mind and you’ll be well on your way to writing for the web with finesse. At Commaful, being a place many writers go to write online, we’ve certainly thought a lot about the topic and wanted to share a number of things to consider.
Know why you’re doing it
The first thing you need to do is to analyze your reasons for writing. Write them down and take a look at them. Some people write mostly for money. Maybe you want to impress people, or feel proud of your work, or perhaps you want to have a way to communicate with others. Whatever the reason, it’s important for you to pick one. Focusing on more than one goal can create a conflict that always distracts from your primary mission. For your purposes as a writer, money and recognition are two very different beasts and you’ll have to approach the two objectives differently.
If your goal is money, look into the money you’d make off of various ways to publish your material. How much do something like Kindle books sell for? Or mailing lists? Are there any other ways that you might have to make your material attractive to people that will pay you for your work? Writing for financial gain does require planning and a workable sense of numbers, but you’ll need to wait until the end of the book before we can get into that. Those who publish books for recognition need to consider why they want recognition. Do you want glory, or is it an ego trip for you? If so, what’ll happen when you reach your goals? How will you continue to feel good about yourself afterwards?
Think outside the box
You may follow a traditional writing routine, but writing online is all about breaking tradition and being free to try new things. And while you can’t go wrong if you’ve got the basics down, it’s also key that you’re aware of non-traditional blogs, and what types of things you can do to make your posts more appealing and your platform more useful. Remember, blogging is the online side of writing, so you need to think like a writer. Read other bloggers’ blogs for tips. Take the most interesting techniques you identify and you can even incorporate these techniques into your own content.
You might read an article with a bunch of interlinking references, or perhaps a collection with pictures and video clips to stir up emotions, both of which are not seen as much in traditional nonfiction. Once you have a better idea, look at different sources online, and take those ideas into consideration for your blog.
Add unique value
Offer your insight or relate your experience in a way that other people don’t. If you can do this, you have an advantage over a sea of potential competition. Too many people write common articles that say nothing new or give advice by disseminating other people’s ideas. They use vague language, recycled sentences, and re-worded advice on how to have an amazing life. These people have good intentions, but they cause an information overload and it is easy to switch to an article that is more interesting and offers more value.
Your writing must be unique and fascinating, with an original spin. Make your article unique by giving the reader an experience that they cannot get somewhere else. You may write a truly funny article, share your unique tips or skills that other bloggers do not, or write an article from a different point of view that makes the reader think in a new way about the topic. Become an expert on something and show your value by providing actionable content to your audience.
Promote art and platform canvas connections
When you’re writing online, you’re writing on multiple platforms. Make them work for you. As an entrepreneur, you want to promote your art and platform canvas. Many marketers make the mistake of focusing on one and ignoring the other, but when you write, make sure you keep both in mind. Write posts that are appealing for whichever filters you want to use. If you want to promote your art canvas, write amazing content that links to your personal online presence. Take a look at your competitors. How are they writing for their art canvases? How can you participate in the conversations going on there? If you want to promote your platform canvas, start expanding your personal brand and talk about the changes that are going on. Write posts that start conversations more than just punching out articles. Write information in your field that’s accessible to anyone.
A brand can certainly change over time. As a brand, you can target who you’re writing to on your art canvas, and you can also expand on who you’re writing to on your platform canvas as well. As a brand, you want to become a household name. When you’re writing for yourself as a brand, focus on a few different things to create a huge presence for yourself. Start sharing your expertise in multiple areas, and start consistently sharing posts that are valuable. Write informative articles that offer people value — this engages with your audience better instead of writing with short content and promoting your art at the same time. Write high-quality content consistently, and research your articles. Make it easy for people to find and share your posts, which means investing in a description and thumbnail.
Most writers know that you should try to maintain a consistent level of quality throughout an article, essay, or entire book. But you also should strive for consistency when you write online. The web is a hotchpotch of different sites that are all attempting to attract visitors for different purposes. Some of them are selling a product, some for link traffic for different companies, and some are looking for subscribers. All these sites have different styles, goals, and strategies, but they also have one thing in common – the need to maintain a consistent approach to their writing. You should try to have a style of writing that you can use for any site, one that is focused and direct, but that doesn’t get in the way of customers understanding your product.
If you work for an online company or website, you should create a style guide, a comprehensive guide to what writing methods you use for that company, and which ones your employees need to use in their blog posts, main pages, blog comments, private messages, emails, and so on. Stay as consistent as possible with indents, capitalization, headers, and other styles that add visual consistency throughout each page. Without style guides, readers can get confused and irritated. Why change formats so suddenly? A style guide makes your site and writing seem professional when you’re largely also publishing automated responses.
Stay on brand
When you’re writing online — whether it’s for a website, a blog or even a social media update — it’s important to establish the right tone. First, think about your own brand. Is the voice you use for your newsfeed on Facebook similar to the tone you use on your promotional website? If not, develop one and use it consistently — your audience will notice it if you aren’t. Then, think about the editorial style of the publication you’re writing for. Every publication has a different way of speaking to its audience — so make sure yours fits right in. If you’re writing for a website, you’ll probably want to emulate the “About Us” page or write in the same tone as your fellow bloggers. You can even include links back to those pages in your author’s bio. If you’re writing a blog, it’s especially important to pay attention to style and tone while writing, because blogs are so closely related to their authors — often in biographical and autobiographical ways. Make life easy on yourself and your readers by getting in the habit of using your editorial brand.
Brand voice is the easiest way to establish an online presence, but often the most neglected. As a result, you should always be watching out for ways to improve the brand voice of your online presences. Do you have a full-time copywriter on staff, or do you have to write the copy yourself, producing an inconsistent tone and style across your site and social media? If so — or if it’s just not what you’re good at — ask yourself if there are better ways for you to serve your audience.
The most successful blogs are transparent, meaning that the author is both an avid participant in their blog and devoted to open communication with any person who would listen. When you are devoted to being a leader in your community, they will want to follow. When you focus on giving quality content, and connecting a subject that is interesting to people, they will be interested in it. You can do all of this most effectively by being present on the Internet. If you’ve established a community and need to wait for comments, be there and reply to comments with good questions or information to keep the conversation flowing and your community will continue to thrive.
Take time to create and write your blog with a large amount of interest in the truth. This can mean revealing the need for true communication on your site. What is most important is to represent yourself honestly and to function transparently for your site. The most successful blogs are those people want to trust and find honest. You can do this in this way by writing posts honestly and communicating you do the best that you can through the information you have.
Engage with your audience
You can never really know what an audience wants, of course, but you can poll them on occasion so that you can write the content that they most want to read. You can also attempt to read your audience’s mind by imagining what they’d want, and then trying to deliver it. There’s not much you can do about another audience that doesn’t like the things your audience does — it’s a blessing that every blog or site is different in that way — but you can emulate your audience if they’re succeeding.
If you don’t have many readers, it can be hard to know how to proceed when writing online. Sometimes loving your individual readers is too small a group to matter. These days, niche isn’t a dirty word — readers love indie authors who focus on a specific topic — but it can still be tricky. The writing and publishing industries aren’t always welcoming to niche writing, and many readers will say that they want traditionally published or well-known content, like books by bestsellers or widely published pieces. Be brave. Trust your own stories, and tell them as best you can. If your work can reach that receptive audience you’ve been dreaming of, you’ll be fine.
Leverage existing fans
Even startup writers with no readers of their own have a built-in audience they can leverage in their writing. When you’re writing for a particular audience, make sure that you make it clear which fans are yours. You can use social media to your advantage here by customizing your bios, locations, etc. to your desired reader base. Name choices should also go a long way towards communicating your ideal reader to your potential fans. Pick a shorter name or variant that sounds like a name a fan would choose, rather than a longer name that sounds like a writer would choose. You want your writing to look like you’re writing for the sake of the fans, with the focus on building a relationship with your true, intended audience.
You can even leverage social media as you write, by taking pictures or making videos of yourself typing or talking about your newest chapter, section, or thought. Be sure to share this by using your social media platforms. Pictures of you typing will show your killer work ethic — especially if it’s an inspiring location, well lit, and you’re typing rapidly. And videos won’t just show you writing, but will also allow you to make spontaneous comments to your audience, thus showing them your interactions with the piece as you write it. Even if you haven’t had an existing relationship with your fan base thus far, as soon as you post online, give someone out there an excuse to chat with you, the chances of them walking over and beginning a conversation with you in real life are astronomical. Who knows? They may be your ultimate fan…
Develop strong relationships online and IRL
On a website or in a book about how to write online, you might think the best advice is to come up with the perfect headline to get readers’ attention. While that’s true — headlines that read like the 20 most awesome ways to be awesome always do well — what’s more important is establishing and maintaining positive relationships online and off. Publishers are increasingly using online metrics to gauge what works and what doesn’t, but most readers are still attracted to how sites are run and structured, not just by what they contain. Research is part of the process, but monitoring reader comments and interacting with them goes further.
Use these healthy interactions, plus the data you collect and research data you discover to inform your own writing projects. You might discover that your ideal audience is actually alienated by some of your topic choices, or spends too much time on Facebook and not enough reading articles about how they should exercise more often, or that they like short tutorials instead of long, detailed how-tos. You may also find out that they’re incredibly enthusiastic for most of their feedback, and that negative comments — or even just a few grumbly ones — can throw everyone in a rotten mood. Make sure to pay attention to what you learn early on, so that you can give it the consideration it deserves.
Prepare to be ignored
All web writing begins with a question. You have a question to ask, you have a need to fulfill, or you just want to make a statement. Your question, your need, or your statement needs to begin with an introduction. You wouldn’t start a book without an introduction or an outline, and the same holds true on the web. Think about it — if people were going to read your blog because they desperately wanted to hear what you had to say, it wouldn’t really matter how you started. Readers would be knocking down your door to get to your words. But that’s not the case, so you have to get their attention before you tell them what you really want to say.
Think about the first thing that happens when you start your silence. How long do you wait? Are there any social conventions requiring you to start immediately? How would you tell if another guest at your party was ignoring the rest of the party to start talking to you right away about something personal and private? Above all, what would a good conversation feel like for a person who you want to keep in your life?
Create a community
Most writers want to be read, and being read necessarily means having an audience. Online writing creates opportunities for people with shared interests to meet, and to share their writing with one another. There are seemingly countless ways to create communities online — you could start your own blog, you could join group forums, or you could share work on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. However, you choose to create a community, make sure you’re using the right kinds of language to welcome people who need a writer’s support — and you need a way to pay it forward when you succeed.
Writing is not a solo sport, and no good piece of writing gets to be good without the aid of multiple sets of eyes. Apart from editors and beta-readers, when you share your work online, you need to be thinking of others who will want to read it — and while you shouldn’t directly ask others to read your work, you should let others know when and where you’ve placed your writing. You should also be thinking about how you can foster community in your community, and find ways for writers to help one another. Point them to professional editing services or connect them with beta readers who can provide genuine, constructive feedback.
Great content can hit a nerve and become viral, meaning it quickly spreads online and you may or may not ever know why. Viral is something that happens to you. The best way to ensure you get viral is to publish the best possible content and let others do the work of spreading it. But sometimes, you may accidentally create buzz and that’s okay. Buzz is a result of putting out constantly good content. Buzz is something you have to work for. Good content is something you just write.
Make sure that you’re using the best medium for the job. People love books more than anything else. People think they love blogs more than anything else. And maybe they do. But figuring out if you should start a blog or if you should publish a book comes down to knowing if you’re communicating your most valued message in the easiest-to-understand way possible. If you’re out to change someone’s life, write a book. Try vice versa.
It can be tempting, when you come across a great article, to browse around the author’s website. With so many online resources vying for your readers’ limited time, however, authors should do everything they can to give them what they came for in the first place. If you write something worth reading, readers will want to read more and they’ll know where to find it. Structure your articles to function as stand-alone products that can be repurposed in the future. As you become more skilled as a writer, your website will build a wealth of content and help drive traffic to your blog or other creative endeavors. So don’t put the cart before the horse — put out content and then worry about building your website. Quality content leads to traffic, which leads to income. Good content also leads to appreciation from your readers. Blogs that publish high quality content consistently tend to have loyal readers who return to read more frequently.
Are you an excellent writer? If so, that’s a big advantage. If not, it’s a considerable disadvantage. There’s still a lot you can do to overcome the overwhelming advantage of established, already-accomplished writers. Focus on providing insightful content. Even better, focus on creating unique, in-depth content. It may take a bit longer to write than short hits and frequently updated blog posts, but it’s better for your long-term success. Catch people’s attention with solid content, so that you don’t waste time trying to convince people to read your mediocre content. Once someone trusts you, they’re more willing to read your garbage.
Don’t expect success to fit a common theme
You should realize about successful online writing is that, naturally, there isn’t a common structure among successful online writing. After all, would we really expect there to be a standard template that can be applied to any website or blog? Every blog and website is different — and in fact, they should be different — and the information shared on them is different. That’s why it’s misleading to talk about the standard structure of online writing. There will never be a common format that’s right for blog owners and bloggers. In short, don’t expect this particular point to apply to you. Except for the fact that it probably does.
When you’re writing online, an accepted format can protect you. It can help you structure your writing, and give a recognizable structure to visitors. More than that, though, it can be a way to liberate yourself from your own preconceived notions. When you know you have a standard structure, you can leave room for your writing to be more creative, and shift around based on your current reader’s mood.
Your challenge in the future is to take the best of what you’ve learned, rely on your strengths, and overcome your weaknesses. You’ll need to learn when and how to apply your improved knowledge, and gain more from books and blogs than you previously knew. It will take focus, discipline, and persistence to develop your strengths, hone your craft, and acquire new skills. But if you do this, and have confidence in what you have to offer to your readers, you’ll find that writing online will become easier and more fulfilling each day — and not just for you but also for anyone on the other end, reading your work.
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