4 secrets of writing for online audiences

CIPR Conversation exclusive from Colin Kelly. Colin is a trainer on the CIPR’s Writing for Online Audiences and the best-selling Writing Better Press Releases and Selling-in your Stories workshops.

Writing something that’s going to appear online requires a different approach and some different skills compared to something you’d write for a traditional print audience.

For starters, online content is consumed in a very different way. Increasingly, that means on a mobile phone or tablet. This means content is read in different environments and different contexts.

You have to work much harder to grab – and then hold – your readers attention.

Number 1 – bite size chunks

The reader might be on a train on their way to work, having a quick flick through their Facebook newsfeed while waiting for a meeting to begin, or browsing through emails while sitting in the pub with friends.

There’s far too much content online, we don’t have time to read it.

Your blog post might be packed with useful, relevant information to enhance my life, or business, but if I glance at it and see it’s more than 250 words long, I might decide not toread it and move on.

The key here is to split up complex or lengthy ideas into more manageable pieces and drip feed them across your channels, for example one post every day for a week. Lists and bullet points work well because of the way people skim and scan when they read online. Consider if your content would be better presented visually – as an image or infographic.

Number 2 – write for machines, and people

That means understanding a bit about how search engine optimization works and what Google sees when it looks at your content.

Why are we writing this content anyway? What do we actually want people to do? Often, what we’ve written is simply the ‘hook’. A nice piece of soft marketing to draw the reader in, but then what?

Number 3 – calls to action

These often have different purposes so thought needs to go into what your call to action aims to achieve. What format are you writing for? Who is the target audience? What’s the desired action? These all play a role in how to write an effective call to action. It’s a real art form and take times to master.

Whether you’re encouraging people to make a purchase, download a paper, subscribe to a newsletter or any other call to action, you have to take time crafting your call to action, ensuring it inspires and stands out.

Number 4 – practice

Finally, what really makes the difference to your online writing success is, of course, the trial and error of practice.

The CIPR has recently launched the Writing for Online Audiences Workshop, led by Lorraine Forest-Turner and myself. The first one takes place on 29 April. I believe if you’re serious about taking your writing skills to the next level, this workshop is a must. You can find out more here.

Expect a highly interactive workshop with several writing exercises across the day, and crucially, constructive feedback.

You’ll leave with a greater understanding of how content is consumed online, lots of ideas about what works, greater skill to get on and do it yourself and practical knowledge to pass on to your team.

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