4 Quick Tips to Help You Write Great Articles for Online Publications
Online publications present unique challenges, but great opportunities
Writing articles purely for online publications presents unique challenges, but also offers a plethora of great opportunities. The barrier to entry is practically non-existent, but it can take some perseverance, open-mindedness, and practice to make real progress, grow a following, and make money.
From the few years experience I have working as a contributor and editor for a student newspaper, and the three years I spent working in marketing and content-creation and curation for an e-commerce business, I’ve learnt some things the hard way, lessons which I’m happy to share with you all. I hope my four quick tips can help you write great online content!
1. Your headlines are your front cover
The adage “never judge a book by its cover” is almost as old as time itself. For better or worse, though, people do judge books by their covers, and people will also determine whether or not they want to read your article based on your headline. Make sure your headline is descriptive and error-free.
Grammatical errors or spelling mistakes are sure-fire ways to put potential readers off clicking your article, before they’ve even had time to parse the meaning of your headline, so check, and then check again.
Your headline should also give your reader a good sense of what to expect from the rest of your article. You want readers who will stay and finish your article, not people who will click off as soon as they realise the products inside the store don’t correspond with the marketing in the shop window.
2. Keep your writing focused and concise
Be honest with yourself about your platform and the patience of your audience. If you’re writing an article specifically for online consumption, whatever you publish will be read quickly.
Before you start writing, make sure you have identified a topic narrow enough that you can cover it in your target word-count. Optimum word-counts for online publications tend to be between 1,000–1,800 words, which make for read times of, approximately, between 4 to 7 minutes.
This range may seem like a lot of words, but it’s not. Make sure you’re clear about what your reader will be getting, and then make sure you deliver on your promises. You can’t resolve every question or issue about a topic in one article, so don’t try. Your readers won’t have the patience for lengthy digressions either, so keep your writing focused and concise.
3. Write with an audience in mind
Some people insist that you must write for one audience — your audience. Others insist that you must focus on a couple of niches to begin with, as a growing writer. This is not advice I completely agree with.
The internet is a very busy and complicated place, full of confusing things like algorithms and SEO. Because of them, you can write articles about two completely different things, and people who are interested in each of them will find, click through, and read your work via unique routes.
If you pigeonhole yourself too much as a writer, you’ll run out of ideas quickly. I therefore think it’s good for productivity to have a few different topics to write about, and I think it’s good to get your followers or audience used to receiving a bit of a mixture and some diversity early on.
Having a healthy mix of interests will keep you learning, motivated to complete your research, and will therefore help keep your writing interesting too, so it is beneficial to cover a range of topics in more ways than one.
That said, it is still obviously the case that your writing is only going to do well, if there is an audience likely to be interested in what you have to say. You definitely should consider whether your subjects of choice, and how you present your findings and thoughts about them, will engage people.
4. Keep your paragraphs short
When I first started writing and publishing online, this was not something I paid much attention to. I came to online publishing from academia, where I was writing papers thousands of words long, with paragraphs made up from close to 600 words in some cases.
So, when I was an inexperienced writer for online publications, I held the naïve belief that the quality of my writing and my unique insights would be enough to get people reading my work. I was wrong.
I wasn’t getting the engagement I thought I deserved, partly because I was putting giant walls of dense text in front of people when I published. I quickly learnt that how you present your content is extremely important.
Keep your formatting neat and tidy, and try to keep your paragraphs pretty short. Like I’ve done here, I find subheadings and breaks useful to space the content out, and give readers breaks to pause and think.
I like to keep my paragraphs between 3 to 6 lines long too. Anything shorter than 3 too often begins to look like spam, but anything longer than 6 starts looking too much like an intimidating, impenetrable wall of text.
5. Break the rules, from time to time
If your writing is overly formulaic, following the same pattern every time, it will become predictable and boring. To keep your content interesting for both you and your readers, you should break established conventions and play with language and structure from time to time.
There’s nothing wrong with surprising your readers with something every once in a while — they’ll remember it positively, if it makes sense.
To grow as a writer, it’s so important to keep an open mind and to keep learning from advice. I have benefited from a lot myself. I therefore hope some of my tips here can help you, so you don’t have to make as many of the mistakes as me, in your own efforts to meet your writing goals.