It only takes one doubtful thought to go from the white screen to writer’s block. That’s why having a template to follow is so useful. There are patterns we have been accustomed to follow. For example, all stories need a headline, but it doesn’t mean you are any less creative, because a good headline is worth its weight in gold. Here are some tips on how to translate your story into the digital medium.
How writing for the internet is different than paper
Writing articles (blog posts) for the internet is surprisingly different than writing a traditional story or newspaper article. There are basically two reasons:
- Technology. Even if you write the greatest article, it’s essentially invisible. Your target audience won’t know that it exists unless you tell them. That’s where technology comes into play, and what you’ve probably heard of as search engine optimization or SEO. In layman’s terms, a search engine computer (an electronic librarian) doesn’t know that when it is looking at a picture of a book that it is a book, though they are learning fast. So, to help the electronic librarian find something, the author must use a lot of keywords to describe everything from pictures to graphs to excerpts. And good website developers will add a lot of unseen things like page title, metadata and schema. Then the search engines will analyze the article according to a bunch of rules, some that we will discuss. And if it ranks high enough, it will be included in the library’s index.
- Short attention spans. And, we all know that we live in a crowded, fast-paced world. So, the average person has become more of a skimmer than a reader. Hopefully, once they skim your article, they will dive in deeper to get the valuable information they need.
How writing for the internet is still the same as newspapers
A popular term leftover the newspaper’s heyday is “above the fold.” Back when newspapers were folded and put in a box or on a newspaper stand, editors wanted the most trending story above the fold. They also put their best picture here, because a picture is something that can be recognized in an instant, and hopefully bring the pedestrian to a screeching halt. This top half of the front page was designed to hook the passerby. Even back then, it was assumed you only had a few seconds to catch someone’s interest.
Modern-day websites still emulate this layout with a masthead at the top and some links like headline news, followed by the main picture and story. Assume you have only a few seconds to grab someone’s attention. Obviously, you can’t reach everybody, so focus on your core audience.
If you read nothing else, READ THIS.
Speaking of short attention spans, here are my top 3 tips for writing an article on the internet, specifically this website:
- Research submission guidelines. That’s what you are reading right now. Articles for this website, Dreamaplay, should be educational, inspiring and/or empowering. In other words, we want our readers to be rewarded for the time they invest in reading an article. In other, other words, that reward is information and/or inspiration that they can use to learn how to dream and turn those dreams into reality, and then teach other people these same skills.
- Write with your audience in mind. In this case, the audience is mostly parents, teachers and healthcare givers, and indirectly their children, students and patients.
- Choose a specific theme. Each article should be narrow in focus but deep in depth. These days good content is king on the internet. In the old days, people just spammed articles with keywords. Luckily, search engines evolved, so we can all benefit from writing and reading good content.
A good idea for both the theme and title of your article is to imagine what questions (problems) and answers parents might be searching for on the internet. Example: your title in the form of a question might be: “Why does my child lack passion in school?” And in the form of an answer, it might be: “How to encourage optimistic thinking in kids ages 8-12.” In the latter case, your refined theme is “optimistic thinking.” Using internet jargon, that’s called the keyword, which is how the search engines will index the article.
Top tips for writing any online article
- Chunk your content. This is my turn of phrase for making your article look easy to read. It’s recommended to use lots of subheads, lists, highlights, callouts, quotes images… anything except a giant block of text. Taken to an extreme, your article might look like a long infographic.
- Include images. This one is so important I have to say it again: please send pictures. That being said, if you don’t have custom, relevant photos, don’t worry. I can find some or make some. The pictures on this post are terrible but better than nothing. The one on the top I made using Adobe Express, and the next one I got from the Wikipedia Commons.
- Check-in with your reader. Though word count is an issue, don’t be afraid to give your readers lots of clues about where they are in your article, and where you are going. The reason is that, unlike a book, readers have no idea how long your article might be and whether it will be worth slogging through until the end. Besides, there is so much information and so much wrong information, that if you are like me, you have unconsciously trained yourself to try and skip to the point. So, Imagine you are talking to a friend. Introduce new talking points and summarize key points learned so far. Thank them and invite feedback. Even in this short paragraph, I used this technique and essentially gave a problem and then a solution using a conversational tone of voice. See it works, right?
- Cite your sources with links. Outbound links to relevant, credible websites will help tell the search engines what your article is about. Besides, it gives your reader more resources and some pros and cons of different methods. Don’t be afraid to point out where we could do better.
- Include a bio and portrait photo. This isn’t mandatory, but people will want to know who you are and that you are someone the can trust. Make your bio short and sweet. Show off your credentials and include links to your social media. You can see mine below. (My bio is probably too short, but I’m guessing people on this website already know who I am.)
- Share. These days sharing is critical to success. It’s an important indicator to the electronic librarians of the quality of an article. And the ultimate goal is for the article to go viral, which means on average it is shared more than once per viewer. So, it could mean that 10 people read it and 1 person shares it 11 times. The author and the website can both share the article with their social networks. (You can see all our social media buttons below.) But another strategy is to build an incentive into the article itself. This isn’t something you have to do, and it isn’t easy, but it could be something like:
- Asking a question. Maybe in the form of a survey or personality quiz.
- Offering something of tangible value, like a coupon to all the readers, or a reward for the most shares, like a free book.
- And, creating a great comment section, such as saying, “Let’s keep this discussion going below. I’ll be happy to answer any questions.”
Okay, so now that you have an understanding of the basics, you’re probably good to start writing your own article. But if you want to dig deeper, we’ll give you some useful tools below. PS. I tried to limit myself to 5 tips because that seemed like an easy-to-digest number. However, I kept thinking of more.
Thoughts on the biggest topic of writing for the web.
- Choose ONE good key phrase and sprinkle it in the title, subtitles, introduction and picture descriptions. To a search engine, a key phrase functions the same as the keyword. It’s like saying “dream machine” instead of “dream” and “machine.”
- Now, you’re probably wondering, “How do I choose a good keyword?”
- You could do a search and follow the instructions of an SEO expert.
- Better yet, if you are a professional, you probably already know the jargon.
- An easy way to find keywords is to think of a subject matter for your article, enter it into the Google search bar, and look to see what it is recommending in the drop-down menu.
- Also, try Google Trends. And if you are techy download the Chrome app “Keywords Everywhere.”
There a few technical things that help an article get found.
- Write a descriptive title under 60 characters. The title shouldn’t be mysterious.
- Write a meta description of about 155 characters in length. Think of this as your one-sentence summary. It is most likely what we will Tweet to our followers.
- Write a one-paragraph excerpt (introductory paragraph). See our Blog list for examples of where the excerpt is used.
- Then write an article at least 600 words long. Anything shorter than this and it may not be indexed by Google. Great content rules.
- Please include captions for photos and give the artist credit. If it is not your photo, it must be free to use.
- And there is a lot more stuff that we’ll do on our end to optimize things like metadata and speed and submit it to Google.
Online tools for the author
- Perhaps the number one tool you can use is Grammarly to check for errors. Even the free version prevents me from making a lot of dumb mistakes. (FYI: No, I’m not getting paid to promote Grammarly. That is a good way to get a Google search engine penalty.)
- Wikipedia is your friend.
- Also, Evernote is a good note-taking app during the research phase.
- And there are a lot more, but three is enough for now. (Does this make four? Keep it simple!)
Whew! I can’t believe that it took that long to explain this stuff. Thanks for sticking through until the end. In summary, just have fun, write what you know about, and let us worry about the details. We appreciate your contributions to helping kids learn how to dream and turn those dreams into reality!