Many writers may assume there’s no difference between writing for the web vs. print, but they would be wrong. As people and businesses turn to digital media, writers who continue to work as they had when writing for print media struggle to find the same level of success and don’t understand why.
The answer is simple: writing for the web requires a completely different approach. Writers for digital media need to adapt to a digital audience for their work to survive and thrive.
The Differences between Writing for the Web vs. Print and Why They’re Important
As people and law firms have increasingly turned to digital media, doomsdayers have popped up shouting that print is dead. But time has proven them wrong. Although there are differences between writing for the web vs. print, digital is not killing print. Instead, science is showing us that the two serve different audiences and purposes. To use digital media for law firm marketing or any other purpose successfully, writers need to learn the differences as well as learn how to take advantage of what each medium has to offer.
The Differences Between Reading Digital Writing vs. Print Writing
Writing for the web vs. print media differs in many ways aside from the obvious. A key difference is how people read each type of medium.
Studies show that people scan web copy rather than read it word for word. In eye-tracking studies, readers viewing web content often scanned the web page in an F-shape pattern. In other words, readers scanned across the top and down the left side with occasional scans right from the left margin. This kind of cursory scanning means readers are not seeing all of your firm’s web content.
Readers of print media approach reading differently. People typically read print media in a linear fashion, word for word from top to bottom and left to right.
Other differences distinguish the digital audience from the print audience, too. Readers are more likely to consume deeply engaging or complex content in print than on the web, reading when they can focus and are without distractions.
On the other hand, people reading web copy are often goal-oriented, meaning they’re looking for something in particular and want to find it fast. They’re likely to be distracted or multitasking so they want easy access to the information they’re seeking. And because they’re merely scanning the screen and searching for particular information, their reading style may be multidirectional—clicking on hyperlinks and jumping around the page.
The Science of How People Read Web vs. Print Media: What It Means for Writers
With these differences, it’s no wonder that people writing for the web vs. print sometimes struggle to succeed when transitioning to writing for the digital world. Writing for the web requires a completely different approach.
Knowing how people consume web copy and writing with a digital audience in mind requires adapting one’s writing style. Including the following will make web copy easier to consume and, therefore, more pleasing to the reader:
- Shorter sentences, paragraphs, and pieces;
- Simple organization with a clear roadmap;
- Interactive content; and
- Search engine optimization (SEO techniques) to improve ranking.
Write in Smaller, Digestible Bites
Writers of web copy should keep in mind that readers are merely scanning the text. To make sure readers can find what they’re looking for easily, writers should generally keep sentences and overall length of the piece shorter than typically found in print. This means more white space on the page, especially on the right side. Readers of web copy often shy away from word-intensive pages.
In addition to feeding information in smaller bites, keep the overall length of web copy shorter as well. While readers might take time to read a dissertation on paper, the same is not true of web copy. A notable exception to this applies when long-form copy is needed to rank organically for an important search term.
Use Headings to Help Navigation When Writing for the Web vs. Print
The most important information should be where people are scanning. For the web, put that information across the top (in the title) and toward the left margin. Readers sometimes don’t even get to the end of the line, so burying important information toward the right margin means it might be missed.
Include headings to highlight the most important information throughout the copy. Headings also help readers navigate the page. Use headings to give readers a roadmap of the content so they can quickly find what they need.
Include Hyperlinks to Engaging and Supporting Material
Readers of digital media expect an interactive experience. They’re curious, but they want the shortest route possible to what they’re looking for. By including hyperlinks, you give the reader opportunities to explore engaging content or supporting material further without having to work for it.
And if marketing is your goal, including hyperlinks to related pages on your firm’s website (“internal links”) is an excellent way to show the reader other ways you can be of service. Doing so also helps boost interrelatedness and authority of your content.
Use SEO to Get Found Online When Writing for the Web vs. Print
SEO is the process of tweaking your law firm’s website and content to achieve better organic search results—to improve your website’s ranking. Google ranks web pages in part by “reading” your title, headlines, designated keywords, and other critical information. If you’re not using these and other SEO features, you’re missing significant opportunities to flag down Google and let readers know you have what they want.
Can Writing for the Web and Print Coexist?
The Internet is growing in importance for business, information, and entertainment. But those sounding the death knell for print media are missing the big picture. There are studies showing that digital media isn’t all things for all purposes.
Neuroscience research has shown that print materials have benefits over digital materials in certain areas. For example, the results of a Canadian neuromarketing firm study show that direct mail campaigns are easier to read and test better for brand recall than email or online display ads.
Another study has shown that readers are more likely to develop a memorable emotional response to print marketing materials than to digital advertising.
Do the differences between writing for the web vs. print mean you should ditch digital and go old school? Not quite. Print and digital each have benefits the other lack. Use each medium in the ways it best impacts readers for your purposes.
As more people use the Internet to find or vet businesses, getting your law firm to the top of search engine rankings is more important than ever. To improve your online presence, contact TwoDogBlog today. Our team will use their knowledge of the differences between writing for the web vs. print to help your firm “get found” online.