Writing Digital Marketing Content – Engaging a new type of Audience

Reading Time: 6 minutes
08 Jun 2015

General Considerations when Writing for the Web

Writing for the web has evolved into a distinct style when compared to traditional media, such as books, magazines and newspapers. According to Nielsen, users behave and read differently online, with only 16% of users reading an article word-for-word (Nielsen, 1997). Users have a tendency to rapidly ‘scan’ online material. Nielsen’s famous 2006 eye-tracking study found that the dominant scanning pattern is an ‘F-shaped pattern, with users initially scanning horizontally across the page, then moving down slightly followed by a second shorter horizontal scan, finishing with a vertical scan down through the rest of the content (Nielsen, 2006). This scanning behaviour means that a number of factors need to be considered when writing online to facilitate this reading style.

Constructing the Headline

The headline should be carefully considered, short and snappy. The purpose of the title is to draw readers into the rest of the blog post. Most users will come across a blog post via RSS, a search engine listing or through links from other bloggers – hence the requirement for the snappy headline to captivate and draw them in (Rowse, 2008a). A number of different techniques have been put forward to achieve captivation of the reader through a headline including (a) Communicating a Benefit, (b) Creating Controversy or Debate, (c) Personalising Titles (using words like ‘You’ and ‘Your’), (d) Asking a Question, (e) Using Power Words such as ‘Free’ and ‘Secrets’ and (f) Humour (Rowse, 2008b).

Constructing and Formatting Content

To retain the interest of readers, content should be relevant, timely and scannable. No one will bother to spend time reading a blog which is nonsense, out-dated (except if it contains relevant or instructional information) or presented in a bland fashion with no sub-headings, links or formatting. According to Nielsen a number of strategies can be used to increase the scannability of a page, which can increase the likelihood of a post being assimilated (Nielsen, 1997). These include:
(a) The use of highlighted keywords, either using typeface variations
(b) The use of hypertext links to reference sources, to explain unusual words or concepts, to refer to further reading or to interlink to other content
(c) Sub-Headings which are relevant and meaningful, not cryptic or clever
(d) Bulleted lists, which order the information in an easily scannable format
(e) The ‘Inverted Pyramid’ writing style, where the most important information or conclusion is at the beginning of the post, lesser information towards the end.
(f) One idea or concept per paragraph
(g) Try to keep the content concise and short; a general rule is half the word count or less than conventional writing.

Sources & References

It is good practice to reference sources in a blog post with both a mention and a hyperlink (Sullivan, 2006). Sometimes it is good practice to include a complete bibliography of sources at the end of the post for clarity – this will add creditability to the post as readers can see at a glance the research that has gone into creating it. From a usability standpoint, include hyperlinks to references so readers can easily navigate to the source for confirmation or further reading; however ensure this hyperlink has a ‘_blank’ attribute and opens a new tab or users may permanently navigate away.

Spelling & Grammar

Spelling and grammatical errors in a blog post can detract from the creditability of the site. In a study of 4500 web users by Fogg (2002) of Stanford University, correct spelling was identified as one of the top 10 factors affecting the perceived creditability of a website (Fogg, 2002). It is straightforward and highly advisable to perform a spelling a grammar check prior to publishing online; most blogging platforms now have built-in plugins to automatically spell check posts.

Universal Audience

When writing for the web it is important to remember that not all readers are at your level of language comprehension or intelligence. Unless the post is highly technical or for a specific niche, it is best practice not to use sophisticated or highly technical language (Sullivan, 2006). Some readers may only have English as a second language and will navigate away if comprehension is too challenging. Some readers may be novices at a particular subject and will get bored if the language is too technical.

Corporate and Business Blogging

Blogging and social media for business are fast becoming a revolution in the online world, with company blogs and Facebook pages consistently moving toward mainstream adoption (Weil, 2009). There are many benefits to having a corporate blog or social media footprint, however a note of caution for the inexperienced user must be noted – as positive as they can be for business, they can be equally as damaging if not used correctly (O’Raghallaigh, 2010).
Corporate blogs offer a unique level of interaction with the customer – they can communicate information rapidly and receive feedback in the form of user comments. This creates a personal or social touch to a company, increasing trust and communication. Social Media for business, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn also have a similar effect, with the added benefit of access to niche and targeted groups, which can increase marketing effectiveness.
However, there are also a number of dangers associated with corporate blogs and social media for business if these tools are not used correctly. The nominated blogger or bloggers for a company must be in a position of trust, as their comments must represent the company’s message, not their own opinion. Horror stories of ‘loose-cannon’ corporate bloggers, who communicated their opinion rather that the company’s stance, has ended up in numerous libel cases in the US and lost business and reputation due to loose comments regarding other companies or customers in general (Broache, 2008). Twitter is especially dangerous as sometimes the language can be colloquial and company representatives can forget their context and tweet something rash. Once a comment is tweeted, there is a permanent record of it online, even if it is deleted from the users account.
A number of special considerations should be taken into account when blogging for business in addition to the general considerations outlined above (O’Raghallaigh, 2010).

  1. Think before you blog or tweet – is this a message the company would post on its website? if you said this to your manager would he/she agree with it and post it via mail to your clients / customers? Would you see this on a memo from the CEO of the company for distribution to the media?
  2. Keep opinions to a minimum as an opinion is subjective and there is bound to be at least one or two people that disagree with it; and the people that disagree with it could have been your next customer.
  3. Keep it factual, but relevant – facts will enhance your reputation as a knowledgeable and intelligent corporate entity.
  4. Avoid destructive criticism – no one likes people that put other people down or who lavishes in others misery.
  5. Avoid giving away too much personal information – it’s a business blog, use your personal blog for this
  6. Avoid giving away too much company information – competitors read your company blog too

 

Legal Considerations

As discussed briefly in the preceding section, there is the potential for legal consequences if any material published online constitutes an infringement of the law. This area is a legal minefield as the issue of jurisdiction becomes important – if an Irish resident publishes an inflammatory article on their blog that does not break libel or defamation laws in Ireland, but does constitute an infringement in the USA, there seems to be little if any recourse for the subject of the defamation from the USA. To this end, most of the case law surrounding defamation and libel by bloggers has come from America. The first recorded successful libel verdict against a blogger in the United States occurred on the 16th June 2004 (Bayard, 2007). In Banks v. Milum, the defendant David Milum, upset with his lawyer Rafe Banks over the handling of a prior case posted defamatory comments on a local political forum. He accused Banks of delivering bribes to judges on behalf of drug dealers. After deliberating for two days, the jury found Milum liable for defamation and awarded Banks $50,000 in general damages, but no punitive damages (Bayard, 2007). Although blogs appear to be an informal method of dissemination of information, bloggers should still be aware that there could be consequences if the posted material is potentially defamatory or libellous.

Conclusions

Writing for the web involves becoming familiar with a new type of audience; a reader who scans information rapidly, expects relevant information to be presented immediately and who will navigate away from the page at the slightest suggestion of incredibility. Headlines with capture attention, content which is presented in a formatted and scannable fashion with the most relevant information presented at the start will give the post the greatest chance of captivating an audience.
Eamonn O’Raghallaigh

References

Bayard, S (2007). “Banks v. Milum” | www.citmedialaw.org | Retrieved online: 04.04.2010 | https://www.citmedialaw.org/threats/banks-v-milum
Broache, A (2008). “Corporate employee blogs: Lawsuits waiting to happen?” | www.cnet.com | Retrieved online: 05.04.2010 | https://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-9903070-7.html
Fogg, B.J. (2002). “Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility.” A Research Summary from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. | Stanford University | Retrieved online: 04.04.2010 |https://credibility.stanford.edu/guidelines/index.html
McLean, J (2009) “State of the Blogosphere 2009” | www.technorati.com | Retrieved online: 05.04.2010 | https://technorati.com/blogging/article/state-of-the-blogosphere-2009-introduction/
Nielsen, J. (1997) “How Users Read on the Web” | www.useit.com | Retrieved online: 05.04.2010 | https://www.useit.com/alertbox/9710a.html
Nielsen, J. (2006) “F-Shaped Pattern for Reading Web Content” |www.useit.com | Retrieved online: 05.04.2010 |https://www.useit.com/alertbox/reading_pattern.html
O’Raghallaigh, E. (2010) “Blogging and Social Media for Business – Powerful yet Dangerous Tools” | www.webscience.ie | Retrieved online: 05.04.2010 |https://webscience.ie/blog/2010/blogging-and-social-media-for-business-powerful-yet-dangerous-tools/
Sullivan, D. (2006) “Good Blog Writing Style” | www.blogscoped.com” | Retrieved online: 05.04.2010 | https://blogoscoped.com/archive/2006-10-11-n47.html
Rowse, D (2005) “Writing Blog Content – Make it Scannable” |www.problogger.net | Retrieved online: 05.04.2010 |https://www.problogger.net/archives/2005/08/19/writing-blog-content-make-it-scannable/
Rowse, D. (2008a) “How to Craft a Blog Post – 10 Crucial Points to Pause” |www.problogger.net | Retrieved online: 04.04.2010 |https://www.problogger.net/archives/2008/08/12/how-to-craft-a-blog-post-10-crucial-points-to-pause/
Rowse, D. (2008b) “How to Craft Post Titles that Draw Readers into Your Blog” | www.problogger.net | Retrieved online: 04.04.2010 |https://www.problogger.net/archives/2008/08/20/how-to-craft-post-titles-that-draw-readers-into-your-blog/
Weil, D. (2009) “Corporate Blogging Inches up Gartner’s Slope of Mainstream Adoption” | www.debbieweil.com | Retrieved online: 05.04.2010 |https://www.debbieweil.com/blog/corporate-blogging-inches-up-gartners-slope-of-mainstream-adoption/
Wortham, J. (2007) “After 10 Years of Blogging, the Future’s Brighter Than Ever” | www.wired.com | Retrieved online: 05.04.2010 |https://www.wired.com/entertainment/theweb/news/2007/12/blog_anniversary

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