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Seven Deadly Sins of Web Writing

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What's the single most important thing that could improve the Web?

It's not broadband. It's better writing.

The general quality of writing on the Web is poor. The way you write has a major impact on what people think of you. Avoid these common mistakes, and you will achieve more with your Web site.

Deadly Sin Number 1: I think I'm God

You cannot sell the organization by selling the organization. Face the facts. People are mean on the Web. They're only out for themselves.


“We're celebrating our 50th anniversary!” “So?” “50% off because it's our 50th anniversary!” “Happy anniversary!”

Never (ever!) start a heading or a sentence with your company name. Always start with the need of your target reader. Before you write, repeat to yourself: “It's not about me. It's about my reader, my customer.”

Deadly Sin Number 2: I go on and on and on…

It is an unfortunate fact that those who have the least to say often write the most. Quality Web writing is rarely about volume, and it is never about padding. If you expect someone to read more than 500 words on a single topic, it better be extraordinarily good.

Get to the point. Then stop.

Deadly Sin Number 3: I can't spell and have awful grammar

If you can't spell and you've awful grammar, you're not going to make it as a business writer. Take up avant-garde fiction. But forget about writing for the Web.

Good Web writing is difficult. It requires a lot of skill and experience. Also, sloppy emails create a very bad impression.

Deadly Sin Number 4: I'm locked in a print view of the world

Writing for the Web is not the same as writing for print. If you can't see the difference, you need to look harder.

Web writers write for how people search. They always finish their content with a set of links. They write great metadata for every piece of content they write.

Web writers never say: “How do I quickly get this brochure up on the Web site? I know, I'll convert it to PDF!”

Rather, they say: “How do I create content that works on my Web site—that logically fits into my classification?”

Deadly Sin Number 5: I'm not very good at writing headings

If you're not good at writing headings, you better find someone who is.

Headings are the single most important piece of content you will write on the Web. Keep them short (no more than eight words). Keep them clear and descriptive. Avoid being clever. Your headings should contain the most important keywords for your content.

Deadly Sin Number 6: Actually, I don't think content is very important

It amazes me—the number of people responsible for Web sites who have little or no understanding of the value of content.

Content matters. Great content makes your organization look great. It'll sell more products. You'll have happier customers. Your brand will be enhanced.

Poor content is worse than no content. Amateur content makes you look like an amateur organization. Nobody should be managing a Web site unless they have a deep understanding of content.

Deadly Sin Number 7: Don't have seven points if there's only six!


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Gerry McGovern (gerry@gerrymcgovern.com) is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.

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