by Monica Valentinelli
This month, I wanted to take a break from discussing topics in online marketing to chat with you about what it means to write non-fiction for the web versus writing for a print publication like a magazine. The first thing to keep in mind is that writing for an online medium is night-and-day different from writing for print. Why? Take a moment to think about the core functionality of a print publication. Once an article is printed and circulated, it becomes a product that may be read by the people who might come across a physical copy of it. That publication is now a finite moment in time; the publication doesn’t live or breathe because it’s in a physical form. Readership is dependent upon when the article is released to ensure the highest amount of readers and whatever happens when it hits the secondary market. Publishers can guess how many people might read your article by their circulation numbers, but there really isn’t a definitive way to track who read it and who didn’t.
On the web, not only can a publisher track how many people have read your article, they can also see how many visits it receives, where the visitors originate from, etc. over a long period of time. For this reason, some consider web-based works to live and breathe online. Articles that you may have written two years ago have the ability to become popular again on the web, simply because of how the web functions. Unlike a print publication, mistakes can also be fixed instantly or articles can be changed, which is why some publications have rushed to produce timely content without having all the facts.
In many cases, writing for print allows you to have more freedom and more flexibility with your writing style because you are writing for a captive audience. When you write for the web, you are trying to capture members of a much larger audience.
Because of how the web functions, when you write an article for the web, search engine optimization (SEO) is a key factor in attracting what are known as “organic” visitors. When applied to writing, SEO refers to a process in which the writer will use specific keywords in a particular order on the page in the hopes that the search engines will “pick up” the article and rank it higher in the search results. If I was writing an article related to alien abductions, for example, I might entitle my post simply as “Are Alien Abductions Real?” A potential visitor would then type in that keyword or phrase into a search engine, find your link, and read the article. This visitor didn’t know about the publication that I was hired to write for nor did they know that I had written the article; they were attracted to my writing based on keywords within it. This type of writing affects your writing style because in many ways it limits creativity and word choice in order to achieve the highest amount of readability possible while retaining the overall theme of the article.
Many, if not all, online content providers know about search engine optimization and how powerful well-created content can help lift a site in the search engine rankings to attract visitors. This content, however, doesn’t come “free,” which is why there is such a huge need for good content written with SEO in mind. SEO is one of the reasons why there are places online that want your writing; many companies are looking for good, keyword-driven articles that they can use on their website. Some of you may feel that SEO isn’t really important all the time; in my experiences, SEO is a component of your online writing toolkit but it isn’t the only one.
In the print world, content is often written with a particular goal in mind, but those goals are often limited by how expensive it is to print that publication and how many people the content might reach. If you think about it, billboards are a great example of how a message needs to be crafted very carefully in order to send the right signal to the right people in a short amount of time. Most print publications also need to generate enough income to cover their base costs, too, which affects how they make decisions.
On the web, content can have the same goals that print publications do. In many cases, ad-supported publications want “eyeballs on the page,” so the writing may be inflammatory in order to attract readers that they can show through their web analytics package to their advertisers. In other scenarios, a business simply wants to have a professional presence online that ranks for specific keywords or they need relevant content on their site because they know that’s how they’ll attract and retain visitors.
There are two other differences between print and electronic media that I’d like to point out here. First, anyone can create content on the web using free tools to attract and retain an audience. You might have heard about how free content creation is affecting traditional models of publishing like newspapers, etc. Second, electronic media is a lot easier to share and distribute than a print publication. No doubt, these two things combined have had a dramatic impact on how a writer gets paid, what rights they have, etc.
In closing, I wanted to mention that my goal for writing this article was simply to highlight some of the functional differences between writing for print and writing for the web. As I mentioned earlier, online content providers are aware of these differences and often hire writers that can meet their needs. So if you’re looking to write for the web, keep in mind that these publishers may be looking at copyright, payment and content from a much different perspective than for print in order to achieve their goals in an affordable fashion.
About the Author
MONICA VALENTINELLI is a professional author, game designer and the content and web analytics manager for digital sheet music retailer www.musicnotes.com. Described as a “force of nature” by her peers, Monica is best known for her work in the horror, dark fantasy and dark science fiction genres and has been published through Abstract Nova Press, Eden Studios, White Wolf Publishing, Apex Magazine, Flames Rising and others. Her recent credits include: an essay in FAMILY GAMES: the 100 BEST, a short story entitled “Pie” in the award-winning BURIED TALES OF PINEBOX, TEXAS anthology through 12 to Midnight and a full-color e-book release entitled THE QUEEN OF CROWS through Flames Rising Press.