Blogger in Residence Aidan Bennett outlines what you need to know when writing for an online audience.
The internet is essentially a giant database, a repository. In beginning to approach writing content for your own internet site or those of others, you first have to think of how best to keep both humans and machines engaged. The engagement of machines is essential, as they determine what is readily shown over the internet and to which users. Machines, those cataloguing the internet, respond to content which is easily indexed, and that which is gaining views and momentum and place it forward in search results and social media feeds. Humans respond to the usual: drama, action, universal themes, happy endings and current affairs, this leaves select room for crossover in the interests of both machines and humans.
Humans are harder to appeal to than machines, humans want something that breaks conventions, genres and paradigms, machines thrive off both. Unsurprisingly, nonfiction generally fairs better over the internet than fiction, as nonfiction, when written for the internet, is more readily catalogued by machines. Nonfiction pieces written for the internet are usually more likely to focus on one or two select topics and to repeat keywords.
Now given that the internet is giant database or repository, and select pieces are shown when gaining momentum to select groups of internet users, it is best to plan your content before beginning to write with several key considerations in mind. Who are you writing for? What interests them? What are they liable to search for? Which internet sites do they frequent? These are the beginnings of the kind of questions you must consider from the offset. You must begin to segment your audience and to think like a marketer, this can quickly eat away at your inspiration and passion.
When in the throes of passion and inspiration which can accompany writing fiction, many don’t stop to consider the most likely end user, the most likely audience. Outside of the usual lofty aspirations of the universal and the timeless, in writing for the internet, you have to think of how people will search for your work or how they’ll happen upon it. You could go it alone, simply believe that those who appreciate quality will find you, but without tailoring at least your home page to attract people in the first instance, the vast majority of such people are still liable to miss your site or your posts to other sites.
Another consideration in writing for the internet is finding a voice, a niche, this is applicable to both fiction and nonfiction writers. When you’re writing nonfiction, namely web copy for a business or company, it’s best to focus on a niche good or service of that particular organisation, this is also commonly touted as best practice in business. When writing fiction that is to be published over the internet, it is also to an extent best to go niche, to establish a voice, a patch of the internet onto which you can attract users, rather than trying to boil the sea. Writing fiction for the internet can often be somewhat easier than producing web copy, as when done incorrectly, web copy is readily seen as trite, inane and full of buzz words and hyperbole.
The main take away for writing for the internet is to think like a marketer, think from the offset about what will appeal to the largest cross section of people. If your work is to be a piece of fiction or a piece of nonfiction on something of an obscure topic, your ship has already begun to sail. Your work, unless featured over a popular website or social media page, will not readily figure in the majority of searches made over the internet.
In the end, what may determine how readily you adapt to writing with an awareness or eye to the practicalities of the internet is how much of a pursuit you are willing to take. Do you believe that most of the writing flooding modern mediums these days is trite, poorly written and base, or do you see opportunity and dollars signs in the brave new world of hyper-cataloguing, hash tags and a like? If you see opportunity dollar signs you’re in luck: you’re beginning to accept, or have accepted the inevitable. If you have to be dragged kicking and screaming into writing to the internet’s specifications than the battle for exposure is already half lost.