It seems like a big question. Because… they’re bored and want to kill time on their lunch break.
Because their friend told them about an amazing pop-up restaurant and they want to find out more. Because they want to buy new shoes. Because it’s raining outside. Because they need to find out where else they’ve seen an actor from Holby City. It turns out there are as many reasons to read web content as there are web users. Damn.
In a sense, this is true. Behind every web search is a complex being with all sorts of things running through their mind. However, thinking about searches in this way does no favours for web content creators. In reality, it’s quite easy to divide the reasons for why people might read your content into useful categories. This is a question that relates both to the three different kinds of search queries – informational, navigational and transactional – as well as that holy grail of content marketing advice – understanding your audience. It’s a cliché because it’s true.
For the purposes of this post we’ll think about this question in relation to the writing side of content creation. From an e-commerce call to action to a long form piece in a national newspaper a writer has had to sit down and ask ‘who am I writing this for?’ and ‘how will they arrive here?’ Thinking about these questions in as clear a way as possible is the route towards creating content that has its desired effect.
The internet is full of people looking for specific information, and lots of content is designed to please these people. However, it’s true that it’s hard to make money from informational searches, as often people just want to have their questions answered and that’s that. In order to reliably capture this traffic the content really needs to hit the spot.
As a writer creating a webpage for which information is its reward, you obviously need to think about the information itself, but the bigger question is how to structure it in relation to your target audience. Blocks of knotty prose is rarely the answer. Your friends in the infographics department might be worth consulting here, and never underestimate the power of an excellent set of bullet points.
Another question is what level of expertise to expect of your audience, and how this affects how you write. When you’re writing content you’re adopting a voice to suit a purpose – a novice isn’t going to want to have to unravel difficult sentences (not many people do, actually), while experts will appreciate a little bit of complexity. Playing around with words can be fun, but if someone’s looking to learn something they’re aren’t going to be impressed by your Joycean multilingual puns.
This is perhaps another theme that could be expanded indefinitely. Information helps people make decisions. What is a decision, anyway? Rather than getting too philosophical about it, it’s best to think of these web content readers as the other end of a transactional query – they need help in deciding what product is for them.
There is a big intersect here between writing for those looking for information. Clarity is essential and complex language will often lead to a negative user experience.
Judging the use of jargon and technical language is important. Is it end users or industry professionals who are entering these search terms? Through which channels will people be arriving at this page?
Of course, in most writing for web you’ll be thinking about keywords. Depending on what page you’re writing you’ll be adding short- or long-tail keywords and targeting particular kinds of traffic. A long-tail keyword search means the user is much closer to making a decision, and the conversion rate will be higher. Your copy just has to tactfully nudge them over the edge – someone who knows almost exactly what they want to buy won’t enjoy being told what to do.
People go to content behemoths like Buzzfeed and Unilad because they want a brief period of entertainment. This is where web content writers are granted a bit more freedom in terms of what they write and how they write it. Of course, there will be some limits according to the nature of your client, but in this kind of content fun and humour are both important tools, for user experience and for that essential indicator of content effectiveness – social media shares.
However, even when content appears to be little more than an amusing distraction for its lucky reader, there will always be on- and off-page aspects for the web content writer to consider. It’s a skill that comes with practice to include keywords and external links in ways that don’t affect the natural feel of your writing.
Dividing up the different kinds of web content audiences in this or similar ways is important to writing effective copy in any situation that’s asked of you. The aim of the copywriter isn’t to demonstrate their mastery of the English language – it’s the perfect control of voice to suite a particular aim. (And to never, ever use semicolons.) Aims will always revolve around a kind of reader, and so thinking about them as clearly as possible, combined with writing knowledge and ability, will always result in content that works.