Thursday 28 March 2024

Master the Art of Writing for an Online Audience


Practical ways to help readers better understand what you mean.

Written by Robyn T. Braley

Tips for improving audience engagement when writing emails, social media content and website posts!

We’ve all received them—emails with random subject lines and content that rambles on forever. We’ve all seen Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Blog, or website posts, which are one big blob that is a challenge to read!

Writing online content requires a different approach than writing for essays, reports, magazines or newspapers. What I share will also make information in printed proposals or reports easier to read. 

Why is this Important?

Strong online communication skills are important for leaders and frontline workers. We want to be better understood by others and to better understand them as we exchange ideas online. 

How Long is Too Long?

Content that effectively tells your story and engages readers requires thought and careful crafting.

 Short is always good, but not at the expense of meaning.

Some social media platforms have character limits. But just because you can reach a limit doesn’t mean you should. What are you trying to say?

It wasn't long ago that social media experts were adamant that blog posts or website page content should never be more than 500 words long. They didn't believe people would read longer articles.

That has changed. The general rule of thumb today is to write as much content as you need to tell your story. 

If that means 500, 1,000, or 1,500, that’s fine. Edit carefully and delete any ‘rabbit hole’ content.

A judge in my city writes posts of up to 7,000 words. He is followed by a large audience in the legal community that reads every word. It takes that much content to fully explain whatever legal position he is putting forward. 

My posts are usually 900 to 1,500 words long. Once my word count reaches 1,000, I decide whether I can split a single post into two.  

In the judge's case, he knows members of the legal community are vociferous readers who want all the details pertaining to a particular opinion. 

Ask yourself these questions.  

  1. Who is my audience?
  2. What are their expectations?
  3. How much content do I need to tell my story?
  4. Can I break up the content into several posts? 

A series of shorter blogs will generally generate more internet traffic than one very long one. However, each post must stand alone. You can link them to each other for those who want to read more.  

Strong Headlines Scream for Attention

When you write a great post, you want people to read it. Strong, clear headlines show up better with search engines. They are also easy to cut and paste with a link into social media feeds or email messages for promotion.  

Taking time to write and rewrite your email or social media headline until you get it right pays off. For example, are there stronger, shorter words? Will flipping the last part for the first strengthen the impact of the title?  

Brilliant titles draw readers into brilliant content.  

One approach is to write your headline in the form of a question. "Why?" Of course, the smart answer is, "Why not!"  

Seriously, a well-crafted question begs to be answered by reading your post. Questions appeal to the cognitive process of the reader, resulting in further engagement.  

A second approach is to make a strong, assertive offer like "Conquer Your Fear By ... or "Tips for Building … or “Five Facts You Need to Know ..." will help establish your authority.

If possible, start your headline with an action word. If it is also a power word, so much the better. 

  • Engage
  • Improve
  • Increase
  • Grow
  • Find
  • Learn
  • Go
  • Stop
  • Give

Never use all-caps in a post headline or email subject line. All-caps is the equivalent of shouting online.  

Keep it Positive

Use a positive tone. That rule also applies when writing about serious topics like the economy, price increases, staff reductions, or others.  

This does not mean understating the problem or shrinking from the truth about a serious issue. However, a positive tone can be in the form of offering hope or proposing solutions to difficult problems. 

In my branding practice, I am periodically hired to conduct qualitative surveys. We often include difficult comments from their clients and other feedback in our report. We never present the information without suggesting ways to respond. We offer a way forward.


A Thesaurus is Your Friend 

Using a $1,000 word when a $100 or even a $10 word will do is to be generally avoided. Unless, that is, you are writing for a $1,000 word audience. 

The general rule is to write at a tenth-grade reading level. That does not mean dumbing down your content. It concerns the way people consume online information.  

I use Grammarly, which assesses the grade level of my writing and suggests changes. It also analyses the strength of titles and has AI tools which can aide in content creation.   

People Read Posts Differently 

People read websites and blog posts differently than how they read magazines or newspapers. 

Online columns are wider than they are in magazines or newspapers. They are formatted as a single column per page rather than being broken into two or three. 

Some people read a post in full, while others quickly scan it and only read the part they are most interested in. That is why text must be divided into sections. 

  1. Sentences should not include more than 15 - 20 words
  2. Paragraphs should be short, using 2 - 4 sentences as a guide
  3. Start each paragraph with a strong statement about the topic that follows
  4. Resist starting sentences with a clause 

Read the following sentences out loud. Feel the difference flipping the sentence parts front to back can make. 

‘Due to the critical need in the region, my Rotary Club raised funds for a clean water project!'  

will become, 

'My Rotary Club raised funds for a clean water project due to the critical need in the region.' 

Break it Up, Baby

Start a new section when you introduce a new idea. Write a catchy sub-headline as a lead-in. 

Most newspapers or magazines don't do this. Articles may fill an entire page without breaks due to the cost of printing, where the use of every bit of space is paramount. 

It costs money to add an extra page. In fact, you can only add two or four pages. In blogging or writing a web page, people scroll down as they read.

Make it Stand Out 

Section headlines guide the eye and make it easier to absorb content. It divides it into consumable bites. 

Use bullet points, arrows or numbers to break up information. Readers respond to lists. 

White space serves a useful purpose by highlighting key information. It draws the eye to key points by relaxing the content and making it feel looser. 

Creating a graphic to profile key info will make it pop out. Simple tools like using different text colours, typing single words or phrases in capitals, bolding or italicizing keywords, or using different fonts for the main body copy draw attention. 

The liberal use of relevant photos also increases engagement and retention factors. Simply put, they add colour and meaning.  

Wrapping it Up

Has this post helped you?  Do you have other tips? I'd love to hear from you. Please share them in the comment section below. 



Twitter: @RobynTbraley

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