Debunking the Myths
According to InternetWorldStats.com, there were only 7,000,000 users of the Internet in 1997, 1.7% of the world’s population. Today, there are over 2,406,000,000 users, about 34.3% of the global population. Times change. Equipment changes. We no longer write Web pages; we write webpages. And as content writing has evolved, today there are very few differences between online writing and offline writing.
It’s high time we debunk the old fuddy-duddy myths of content writing.
1. “People scan Web pages and rarely read them.” Wrong. People scan webpages and newspapers until they find something of interest to them and then they’re glued to the article until its conclusion.
2. “Don’t write clever subheadings.” This was never true, except for non-clever writers.
3. “Web pages should use bulleted lists.” This is only true when and where they are useful; otherwise, no webpage needs them. I have yet to see a bulleted list on a Wikipedia article.
4. “Write short sentences.” Sure, write short sentences – along with medium sentences and long sentences.
5. “Always use one idea per paragraph, not many ideas.” This is great advice for elementary school children just learning to hold their little pencils.
6. “Use the ‘inverted pyramid’, newspaper style, starting with the conclusion.” This only applies to news stories. Who wants to hear the punch line before the joke?
7. “Use half the word count than in conventional writing.” Yeah, right. The Wikipedia article for Barack Hussein Obama II runs 25,588 words with 30 words added in the time it took me to do a word count. SEOmoz did a study once that disclosed the best traffic was to one of its blog posts of 5,000 words.
“Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
– King of Hearts to the White Rabbit in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
“How long should a webpage be? Like any other writing, it’s like the length of a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the important things and short enough to be interesting.”
– Aunt Mollie™
“There’s no such thing as copy that’s ‘too long’ but there is copy that’s ‘too boring.’ “
– Gary Halbert (1938 – 2007), direct-response marketer
“The truth about long copy is that, first of all, there’s abundant, legitimate, statistical, split-testing research to indicate that virtually without exception, long copy outperforms short copy.”
– Dan Kennedy, marketer, and editor of dankennedy.com
8. “Use a scannable layout.” No. Match your layout to the text.
9. “Use neutral rather than subjective language.” Neutral isn’t normal. Neutral is just plain-potato boring.
“Readers want the person who is talking to them to sound genuine.”
–William Zinsser, American journalist and author of On Writing Well
10. “Avoid writing long pages of content because users are reluctant to read more words and scrolling is extra work.” Oh, puleeze!
All of this content writing advice belongs in the last century from whence it came, along with the monochrome monitors and the dial-up modems.