Content Style Suggestions, Guidelines for Great Web Copy

Add some style to your (content) substance.

[This is part of the Developing Great Blog Content Series.]

If we’re spending so much time on making your blog content the best that it can be we must talk briefly about styling your copy and content in the best way possible. What I’m talking about specifically is creating an explicit Style Guideline for your content or at least having one internally memorized.

Now, to be sure, I’m not a perfect example and I like the freedom to change the way that I write and present the content but there are a handful of points that you’ll want to always consider when writing great web copy for your readers.

Here are a few things to consider when you write your content so that it’s impact is the best and your readership is the highest.

7 Core Considerations When Writing:

When you write great web content and copy you’ll want to always consider these elements when writing:

  1. Writing for Web – The simple fact is that writing for the web is dramatically different than copy for print material, books, magazines, and other physical mediums. There’s a culture and nuance to doing it well, besides the fact that it’s more more responsive, interactive, and diverse. Copying and pasting book content into a blog post just doesn’t work and you know this intuitively!
  2. Audience – Knowing your audience is something that requires intentionality; you might think you know your audience but what I’ve discovered is that it requires explicit thinking and critical analysis. Knowing how they read web copy and content will inform how you will write your content.
  3. Scanning – Write your content so that it’s easily scannable. You see, we have all developed a propensity to scan content rather than read it all, line-by-line (or at least at first). If your content is not easily scannable then your reader might simply pass over great content without knowing it! Capture their attention with good content and copy styling!
  4. Simple and Concise – Make sure that you speak plainly and simply with your writing for the web. Your goal isn’t to impress your readers with your expansive vocabulary or to purposely confuse them with rarely-used language – your goal is to have your readers read with understanding! Don’t overdo it! And make your content concise and targeted – if it takes you only one sentence to get a point across then don’t write two!
  5. Avoid Hype – It’s way too easy to write in such a way that makes everything “super important” and exaggerated. Stay away from that type of language. And especially stay away from boasting in yourself, your products, services, and content. There’s no need to prove anything to your readers, and besides, you don’t do that in real life conversations, right?
  6. Focus – Always remember that your goal is to write according to your blog’s focus. Don’t veer from these things and you’ll find your writing much easier and more effective.
  7. Consistency – Whatever you do make sure that you’re ultimately consistent with it! This makes all the difference!

Now on to some practical things that you should consider when actually writing!

Even more style for your substance? For sure...!

Style Suggestions for Your Blog Content:

Here are some particular things that should be in the forefront of your mind as you write. Everyone will have a different style (considering the top seven core considerations above) but there are some basics here as well:

  • Spelling and Grammar – Make sure that you’re consistent with your spelling and grammar. Edit your work and even get someone else to review it! Do you follow US spelling? Do you spell the word color or colour? Optimize or optimise?
  • Standard Words – Do you always capitalize certain words? JavaScript or javascript? Web design or Web Design? eMail or email or Email? Home Page or homepage? Just be consistent!
  • Heading Formats – What format (size) do you use for headings and sub-headings? What is your requirement for those actual titles? Do you capitalize the first letter in every word or just the first word? For example, I use <h3> for headings within the blog post and <strong> or <h4> for sub-headings. I try to capitalize every word in <h3> headings within reason and just the first word in <h4> or <strong> headings.
  • Numbers – Do you spell out the numbers? Do you use digits? Do you spell out “one” through “nine” and then use digits after the number 10? I typically am flexible with these but I try to stay as consistent as possible.
  • Linking – Do you link appropriately and consistently? Do you link directly within posts or outside? Make sure to review this post here about linking as this applies to your content style!
  • Names – Do you always use first and last name when mentioning a person? Do you use both for the first time that you mention and then first (or last) for subsequent mentions? I typically try to do full name on the first mention and then first name on mentions after that.
  • Punctuation – Do you put periods and commas inside or outside? Do you care? It’s good practice grammatically to put them inside double quotation marks and outside single quotation marks, e.g. I love ‘blogging’. We all love “blogging.”
  • Quotes – Do you use single or double quotation marks for quotes? You should use a single quotation mark for quotes within quotes, e.g. “TentBlogger is a ‘professional blogger’.” Or do you always “pull” the quote out by using the Blockquote feature in WordPress?
  • Commas –  Do you use commas in serial or do you leave it out after the ‘and’? For example: Blogs, Bloggers, and Blogging. I flip-flop here but it’s better practice to leave out the last comma. Also remember numbers to use a comma after any value over 999, like 9,999.
  • Dashes – How do you use dashes? Do you use it to grab attention or make a point?
  • Bold, Italics – How often to you use bold text? It’s good practice to only use it for very important words and only one time per paragraph. For a more tonal emphasis and focus you should use the italics in your copy.
  • Code – Do you have a styling for your code snippets? Most people just use the <code> attribute for inline code call-outs but some people use plugins to give it more style.
  • Images – I have a complete post on using images here but you should always be consistent in size and scale. Make sure they are of high-quality and use screenshots that are high fidelity. Make sure to optimize them as well. Do you use captions? Make sure you define that use as well.

These are just some of the more basic elements of good copywriting for the web and this should provide you a great place to start.

Of course, you could probably refer to someone like Michael Hyatt for even better (and more specific) writing techniques and styles!

[This is part of the Developing Great Blog Content Series. Image via Joel.]