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As most regular bloggers will tell you, writing for the web is an utterly different beast than writing for a magazine or newspaper.
It takes a certain ability to catch a reader’s eye and, in 1000 words or less, tell them everything they need to know about a subject. Your piece has to be entertaining or thoroughly useful to hold readers’ full attention in a sea full of other articles attempting to do exactly the same thing.
A year ago, I had never considered the idea of writing for the web; without a well-timed suggestion from a friend I probably never would have. Since then, I’ve gained an appreciation for the skill and have even had experienced small successes getting published.
Here are a few of the major tips and tricks I picked up along my online writing journey.
1. Write about what you know
This seems like a no-brainer, but it can be extremely easy to get too focused on pitching the best piece for a website and lose sight of your piece.
Yes, it’s important to choose topics related to the overarching niche of the website, but try to avoid situations that involve writing about a topic you’re not interested in.
Writing is best when the author cares, and becomes even better when there is passion behind the words.
A good rule of thumb is to never publish a piece you wouldn’t put your real name or regular pseudonym on.
If you find yourself writing an article based around ideals you don’t actually support or facts you don’t believe in, it will never turn out as well as it could have. Find a way to make your work something you can defend.
2. Learn how Google (and other search engines) work
When I started writing for online outlets, I had no idea how Google, or any other search engine for that matter, worked. I had never given any critical thought to how search engines are able to index the majority of the internet and categorize it in a way that boosts user experience. The whole process is actually extremely sophisticated.
Understanding a bit about how search engines work is instrumental in making sure the pieces you write get seen by your target audience. Making small adjustments to title tags and phrasing to make articles easier to find can make all the difference in gaining authority as an internet writer.
Although Google is the largest search engine and makes up more searches than all other engines combined, it’s important to understand the slight differences between search engines so you work can rank highly in no matter which search engine a potential reader uses.
3. Pitch something straightforward
Editors are busy people who receive hundreds of emails full of amazing pitches just like yours every day.
In my experience, they aren’t interested in being flattered or reading personal anecdotes about how you relate to their blog; editors want to know what you’ve got to offer as quickly as possible. For most sites, a two to three sentence outline of what you want to write about, why it’s important, and why you’re the person to write it is sufficient.
The style of the pitch also plays a key role in getting responses. For instance, unless an editor has a dogged ability to read hundreds of emails in order from oldest to newest, he or she is going to click on the attention grabbing headlines first.
If you have an attention-grabbing working title, use it as the email header to pique an editor’s curiosity before they even open your message.
Finally, never apologize or use apologetic language in your pitch emails. This language gives editors an easy way to reject your piece without seeing a draft, especially if they are on the fence. Confidence is key; remember that you are the one offering them a service by writing for their outlet.
4. Always, always follow through
When you do get a response from an editor, don’t slack off. You’re in, but you still have to prove yourself.
Produce a quality piece in a timely manner (two weeks max unless otherwise specified), send follow-up emails, and say “thank you.”
If and when you do get editor feedback, always be appreciative and take their suggestions seriously. Building relationships is essential for online writing and it never pays to burn a bridge when taking five minutes to write an email would have helped.
When your article is finally published, show that you are an engaged contributor. Share your work as much as possible on social media. Respond to any comments you receive in a positive and appealing way.
Proving that you are both easy to work with and involved with the blog’s reader base is a great way to build relationships and score regular contributor status.
Writing for the internet can be tricky, and sometimes just feels frustrating. Whether you’re just starting out or are a veteran, always remember that you have a perspective and style that readers value. Taking the time to write about topics you care about, understand aspects of search engines, pitch great ideas to editors, and following up on feedback are major steps to make sure your words are read and enjoyed againand a gain.
What other tips do you have for writing for online outlets?