Managing Director of Grow, Alasdair Inglis, shares his top tips for online content.
It’s pretty hard to imagine a more insulting put down for a journalist than being called a “hack”. Hack journalists fill the remote pages of any newspaper with salacious, trashy stories written in an unimaginative, derivative way.
However, as unappealing as that sounds, there is a thing or two hack journalists can teach you about writing great, easy-to-read content, such as:
1. Write in the "inverted pyramid style"
You should structure your paragraphs like a news story, with the most important information at the beginning, and the less essential information nearer the end.
If you read a short news story you will notice that is structured in an unintuitive way. Instead of following any sort of narrative the story is instead written with the most important aspects first, tapering off with the less important information at the end.
By structuring your posts like this, you give your readers access to what they want straight away.
2. Use short, sharp language
Another defining characteristic of a "hack" journalist is thier use of to-the-point, concise language. These guys aren't Oscar Wilde - they write to get the job done in as few words as possible.
A 1997 study showed that 79% of people on the interner scan text instead of reading, and as people have got more used to reading online content, this number can only have gone up.
Too many online writers write to make themselves sound clever; you need to write to make other people feel clever. Big fancy words are no good here. To write good web content, think caveman language.
Remember, your readers aren’t here to experience some top-notch literature. They’re here for a solution to a problem, and they want to take in that information as quickly and easily as possible.
3. Put big ideas into bite-sized chunks
Your readers don’t have time to sit, think and unravel your message. You need to communicate what you want to say in the most direct way possible.
Don’t meander around the point at hand, and don’t get too bogged down in the details of what you’re saying. Break down your message into something anyone can understand.
This is another trick hack journos have nailed down; they say what they need to say in the easiest way possible for you to read and understand.
4. If it's not essential, cut it
If an added detail doesn't add to the story in any significant way, cut it. Your readers will love you for it.
Remember, unless you're writing for a comedy website, or your blog is celebrated purely for your writing style, your readers are on your site to be informed. Don't make them dig through swathes of text to get to the good stuff.
5. Use clever, attention catching headlines
Headlines are probably the single most important aspect of your post. You could write mind-blowing, world changing content but if you don't write good headlines, no one's going to click through and read them. Therefore they need to be attractive and intriguing enough to make readers check out your blog.
Here are some great tips to help create better headlines:
- Go with numbers or numbered lists. There’s a reason why your Facebook feed is choking on articles like “11 sexist cats that look like Ryan Gosling”. Learn from sites like Buzzfeed and maybe one day your content can annoy the whole of the internet, too.
- Use compelling, emotive adjectives. Whilst this isn’t your high school creative writing class, using more engaging words like: “amazing”, “beautiful”, “inspiring” etc will make your article sound much more interesting.
- Make your headlines are intriguing, but not too vague. Upworthy do a great job of this, giving you just enough information to whet your appetite, whilst not giving away the payload.
- Use keyword research. Make sure you know what the most searched terms are for what you’re writing about and make sure that they’re in your headline. If your target audience is searching for “How to write better headlines”, make sure that your blog post headline will show up on their search.
Alasdair Inglis on behalf of Business & IP Centre