The world wide web has not killed print books, magazines and newspapers. However, it has created a new concept in professional copywriting: writing for the web. What does it mean? Why should there be a difference? Reading is the same, after all, irrespective of the medium.
Actually, it is not. Parallel studies conducted by Sun Microsystems and Stanford University in partnership with the Poynter Institute have produced concurrent results:
- People read 25% slower on a computer screen than from a printed page;
- 79% of internet readers scan the page rather than reading all the words and sentences;
- Internet readers are three times more likely to read only the sub-headings and beginnings of article sections than go in depth and read everything, compared to newspaper readers.
These findings clearly prove that there is a significant difference between reading styles in print or on the internet. For this reason, copywriting has evolved into two different set of rules for writers. Here are the key differences:
This is the most obvious difference between print and online copywriting. As the studies cited above show, people are slower when reading on a computer monitor because the glare causes eye fatigue. They are also less likely to focus in depth on the contents of an online article.
This means that articles and blog posts for the web should be shorter than those for print. How much shorter? About 50% of experts state that, for a regular feature article in print of around 1,000 words, you should stick to 500 words on the web.
Text formatting in newspapers and magazines is strictly regulated by the specific layout of each publication (number of columns per page, text vs. photos vs. ads ratio). Things are quite different online. Texts should be split in paragraphs, sections, sub-headings and bulleted lists.
Since the average reading style on web is F-shaped (left to right, then left to right and a quick look down the length of the article), include the most salient and attention catching elements of your articles in paragraphs and sub-headings following this shape.
In print, the writing style is usually formal and impersonal, adapted to the editorial policy of the respective publications. These articles are meant for a general audience. By comparison, writing on the web is highly compartmented by niches. Articles should be addressed to a specific audience, with their specific expectations and preferences. The tone should be more informal, exuding the writer’s personality. It is a writing style where a copywriter can truly prove their talent and skills.
This is specific to writing for web – although every once in a while we see a newspaper ad where the copywriter forgot the medium they were writing for and says “click here for more info”.
SEO and link building are two elements any professional copywriter is expected to include in their online articles. Whether the article is used to promote a specific keyword or act as a link back to a specific website, there are clear requirements when writing for the web in terms of the number of times a specific keyword should be used and how to create anchor texts.
When writing for print, authors are expected to support all of the statements they make by citing reputable sources. This stems from journalism, and it is still a staple in the rules for writing for newspapers and other print publications. The online environment is more lax. Sure, you are expected to justify statistics, scientific theories and findings, and some claims included in your articles. But you are also expected to share your own views, ideas and opinions. There is no editorial policy to follow, except of the guiding principle of creating original, true and interesting content, which the readers will find useful.