Writing for the Web: 10 Guidelines for Strengthening Your Site’s Copy

by Robin Quinn

Are you a publisher or business owner with a web site that isn’t generating the results you’d like? Current thinking about writing for the web offers lessons you don’t have to learn the hard way. Some of the most interesting points being made in the web writing debate today are variations on the following:

  • “Web creators need to put money into the writing of their sites, not just the design.”
  • “Much of the text that’s on web sites is not serving the mission or audience of the sites very well.”
  • “Traditional copy, such as print brochure text, just doesn’t work on the web.”
  • “What makes the web different is that it’s a shared space in which the audience is an active participant.”

So how should writing for this exciting medium be approached? If it’s unlike writing for print, what are the major differences you’ll want a web writer to keep in mind? What follows are 10 basic guidelines:

  • Guideline #1: Leave the generic “business speak” behind. This is a major point of the current debate on web writing and it makes a lot of sense. The problem is that stale straight “business speak” is too cold and authoritarian for the chatty, active audience that loves to roam around the Internet.
  • Guideline #2: Make selecting the right “voice” for your site a priority. A web site for classical music lovers requires a different tone than one for homemakers stretching budgets with yard sales, recycling, coupons, etc. What do you know about the people who are, or will be, using this site? What voice would they use among themselves? Often this voice is the one you’ll want to choose.
  • Guideline #3: Part of finding a site’s voice is making sure it serves the intended mission. It’s easy to overlook the basics in the rush to put up or revamp a site for your company. However it’s smarter to invest some time and energy into determining what the site’s main mission is (as well as its other purposes). What voice will support the site’s mission/purposes and resonate with its audience?
  • Guideline #4. Consider making your site a problem-solver. What is it that your customers really need? How can you offer this to them on the site?
  • Guideline #5. Use web copy that is clear and uncomplicated. In my articles and talks on book writing, the issue of clarity often comes up. Well, the issue of clarity is even more crucial on the Internet! Web readers move fast, usually scanning rather than reading. Confuse them and click… they’re gone.
  • Guideline #6. Capture the attention of site visitors with catchy headlines and subheads containing language they use. Headlines and subheads are critical components of web copy. First, they serve as guideposts for what visitors will find on your site. Second, they can keep visitors on the site reading and exploring.
  • Guideline #7. Use concise copy. To put it simply, the web site text should not be overwritten. A basic rule is to use about half as much copy as in printed material. Remember that we’re dealing with a short attention span in this medium. Along these lines, breaking the copy into short paragraphs will make it appear to be a faster read. Bulleted lists will also help visitors scan your copy quickly.
  • Guideline #8. Involve your visitors. User involvement is another way to keep visitors on your site. And it can help you be more successful in serving them. To this end, the writer should work on web pages that ask for your visitors’ opinions and ideas.
  • Guideline #9. Don’t overhype. Overselling sticks out on the Internet. Instead, give your visitors the details they’ll want to know about your products.
  • Guideline #10. Create a web site that’s easy to navigate. By sharing ideas for the organization of your site, the web writer and designer can determine how to make your site work best for its visitors. What’s the point of having the best writing on the Internet if visitors get lost on your site and never read it? With millions of web sites scattered across the Internet universe, it’s important that the words on your web pages work to keep visitors engaged. So put these 10 guidelines to good use the next time web writing lands on your To Do List. They’ll help keep you, your writer, and your words on the right track.

Writer Robin Quinn makes her nest in Los Angeles. For over 15 years, she and her associates at Quinn’s Word for Word have offered professional writing and editing assistance to individuals and companies. For further information or to comment on this article, e-mail  or call 310/838-7098. 

Looking for a ghostwriter?

Contact Information

Principal Contact
Robin Quinn, Lead Writer & Editor
310/838-7098 (call first)
Postal address
10573 W. Pico Blvd., #345, Los Angeles, CA 90064
Electronic mail
General Information:

Have a Happy Day!
Books are Fun!
I Can Help You Get Your Book Done!

"Great attitude and amazing talent!"
Patricia Fitzgerald, The Detox Solution
"I wanted the best editor... so I took The Self-Publishing Manual to Robin Quinn."
Dan Poynter, Para Publishing
"Robin Quinn is a very talented writer."
Ghost client, alternative health title
"Working with Robin was such a pleasure. I look forward to working with her again."

Ghost client, spirituality title