Before answering that question, let me put it in context. My colleague, Cortney Rhoads Stapleton, recently led a BlissPR team that wrote the text for the Industry Practice Group section on the website of a major professional services client. The project was complex – 16 different industry groups with two to seven leaders that had to be interviewed – plus a tight time line, but we persevered.
Last week we shared our learnings from the project with the BlissPR staff. Cortney highlighted the project management aspect and the writing part fell to me. The staff found it useful, so we thought we’d share it.
Websites are not “transplanted” brochures. Much of the writing about professional firms tends to be ponderous and academic, probably because those firms are “professional,” with established standards and precedents. Think CPAs and attorneys, for example. “Hype” is not their style, and correctly so. That’s why it took many years for some firms to even publish a brochure. Then when that colossal effort was concluded, along comes this new thing called a website, with its own inordinate demands for content.
The natural reaction was to say: “Adapt the brochure copy to the web and, by the way, change as little text as possible because it’s all approved copy.” That’s an approach … the wrong one. A website is different than a brochure and needs to be treated that way. Here are a few ways how:
- Use a conversational tone. If it is universally agreed that the internet promotes on-line conversations, why are so many websites dragged down by leaden prose? Write as if you’re talking to someone. Granted, it is not easy to move professional and financial firms out of their comfort zones, but give it a try.
- Use the active voice. Use the active tense and avoid the passive like the plague. From the reader’s standpoint, it is.
- Use short words. Make it easy for the reader/viewer to understand what you are trying to say. If he or she gets bogged down, it’s only a quick click to another website. In that vein, please never write “utilize” when a simple “use” will do quite nicely.
- Use different words. Some words – and phrases – get used so often that they become clichés. Try out some new ones that will grab peoples’ attention. Try “skyrocket” instead of “significant increase,” for example.
- Don’t revert to industry jargon, either yours or your potential readers. Everyone recognizes it for what it is, and no one likes it.
- Don’t “back into” your logic. Clauses to introduce the main body of a sentence are fine, if kept to a minimum. Just because your mind may work that way doesn’t mean your words on paper need to follow suit.
- Remember that you’re writing for the reader. Yes, you need to bring forth all the good points about your enterprise but never miss the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge of the reader’s business. Back up that knowledge with solid proof points and you’re on the way to starting a new business relationship or cementing an old one.
One piece of good news I shared with our staff is that, since we began updating our own blog daily about a year ago, their writing has improved markedly. It’s much more punchy and direct.
Looking back at this list, it struck me that these guidelines for website writing are pretty close to guidelines for good writing under any circumstances, hence the question in the Title of this post. What do you think? Are there major differences in website writing and other good writing and, if so, what are they?
To reach John: