by Michael Bedford
Published at 2019-07-04
Different publishers have different demands. One doesn’t submit the same article to both The New Yorker and the Toronto Sun. These two periodicals have wildly different editorial standards and wildly different readerships. Similarly, writers must make important formal considerations when writing online content, rather than print.
Writers who fail to take advantage of the unique opportunities that online publication present could be stunting the editorial development of their own online work. If you are ready to take the next step, here are seven important considerations specific to online publishing that you might follow.
Although some clients will provide writers with topics or suggestions for topics, it’s often within the purview of the writer to come up with an idea. Generally, article topics should be specific rather than broad, and the best topics are those with built-in interest. Writers do well to relate online articles to popular trends, and if one’s clients have monthly or weekly editorial themes then it helps to tie topics to these.
By associating an article with clients’ editorial themes, online writers make it easier for potential readers to find their well-crafted and strategically targeted content. Although it’s a good idea to craft engaging content that a variety of readers can enjoy, writers should draft articles with specific audiences in mind and target these demographics when promoting their writing.
Obvious though the sentiment may seem, there’s no point in writing content for people unlikely to read it, so, as a rule, it’s safest to target 20–35-year-olds since people in this age range tend to use the internet more than others. That said, articles written for other age groups could very well appeal to these comparatively untapped markets, so it’s best to publicize widely and to try to write generally accessible content.
The process of drafting an outline for online content is generally similar to the process of drafting an outline for print, but with a few additions. For instance, online content will still contain a lead paragraph, body text, and a closing paragraph. Unlike print, though, outlines for online content may also include key-phrase counts (“online content” is used 9 times, including in the title), notes on where in the article to link content to URLs (such as here), and ideas on how to best crosslink one’s content with another article or website.
Reading poorly researched online content is a painful ordeal but reading complicated or overly technical content is often just as bad. From the readers’ perspectives, and those of most editorial clients’, as long as the writer knows how to make appropriate cuts to their work, there’s no upward limit to the amount of research a writer should do.
From a writer’s perspective, though, research should be cost effective. For instance, writing a bio for Bill Gates necessarily includes researching Gates’s life but it doesn’t necessarily include researching the history of computing. Although a writer already familiar with the history of computing might be able to use this information to their advantage when drafting Bill Gates’s bio, the bio could conceivably be just as good, or even better, without it.
Much like any lead paragraph for print, leads for online content should be concise and give readers a general idea of the tone and focus of the article they’re about to read. Lead paragraphs should be engaging and catch the attention of the intended audience, especially since many search engines take excerpts from lead paragraphs to us as promotional content.
Unlike print leads, though, online leads must also catch the attention of search engines. Search engines like Google scan volumes of data and assign rankings based on what their algorithms perceive as topical relevance. Returning to the example of the Bill Gates bio, a search engine is far more likely to perceive the bio’s relevance to Bill Gates if “Bill Gates” appears in the lead paragraph than if the name only appears somewhere in the body of the text.
Strong closing paragraphs keep readers coming back for more. Unlike the end of a journal article or other academic paper, endings to online content should seek to engage first and summarize second. Readers are more likely to remember the final paragraph than any other in the article, so this is the place for key points and insightful observations. This final paragraph will stand as a testament to your and/or your client’s brand, so it’s a good idea to take some time to get it right.
What used to just be a name at the end of an article has evolved into a directory of the author’s contact information. The byline gives authors a great opportunity to promote their online identities, often including links to their email address, Twitter handle, Facebook account, LinkedIn account, and professional website.
Bylines also provide authors excellent opportunities to differentiate themselves from the competition by providing readers some anecdotal personal information. My own byline for The Editing Company includes information about being a performer where other writers’ bylines contain information about their families, pets, hobbies, and their involvement in a variety of other extra-curricular activities. Bylines like these personalize the author and give readers something to remember about the writer’s brand beyond their writing.
Good luck with your writing projects!
Michael Bedford is a freelance editor, copywriter, and performer living in Mount Hope, Ontario. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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