Writing Effective Web Prose, Pt. 1

So you know the difference between “their, ” “there,” and “they’re,” and you avoid incomplete sentences like the plague. But now you think you are ready to take your writing skills online to write some website content. Well before you start the next best food blog, consider all the differences when writing for the web versus the analog counterpart.

There are many specific differences when writing engaging content for your website that can make it different than your everyday writing. Below is part one of two of our “Writing Effective Web Prose” series that explores these subtle, yet important differences, starting with some tips for writing headlines. We will also explore some writing basics, too. So grab the nearest note-taking utensil, and get ready to expand your writing horizon! Also be sure to check out part two, Writing Compelling Content, which dives into writing the body of your content.

Writing Headlines that Hook

No matter the medium for which you are writing, there are four standard objectives when writing any headline. You should try to make your headline:

  • Unique
  • Useful
  • Ultra-Specific
  • Urgent

I won’t go into any detail, as they are pretty self-explanatory, but I will say that when writing for the web, these four components become even more important. Your headline needs to grab your readers’ attention, and it needs to be more unique, more useful, more specific, and more urgent than the plethora of other headlines that are competing with yours. Think about what benefits your readers will gain from reading your article, then write a headline that conveys those benefits.

When writing headlines, your goal is to hook your readers and assure them it is in their best interest to read on. Don’t be afraid to use alliteration and rhyming. Use words that are not used very frequently. Play off of a familiar phrase. Be interesting!

…But not too interesting. Don’t write “click bait” headlines (we’ve all seen them: “You’re In For A Big Surprise If You Own A Home In Ohio”), which end up disappointing the reader. The idea is to maintain the reader’s trust and keep their attention throughout the duration of the article. As you are adding a little style to your headline, be sure you are not removing any substance to make room for it. Use exciting verbs, not boring ones like “is” “gets” and “take.”

If you write in an appropriate reading level and use headings correctly (use proper <h> tag formatting), your article will be easy for users and search engines to read. This is very important if you want your article to be found organically online.

Headline Grammar Tips:


You might have notices that some publishers capitalize more words in their headlines than others. A publisher uses “title case” if all words are capitalized except for articles, conjunctions, and prepositions. All verbs must be capitalized, even “is.” “Sentence case” is used if only the first word in the headline is capitalized (and proper nouns), as in a sentence.

Search Engines

Headlines are a main source for search engines to determining the keywords of an article. So be sure to include the important keyword(s) in your headline. Your headline should be easy for your readers to understand, and should also tell search engines what your web page is about.


A subhead can be used to provide a little more information. Don’t repeat anything from the headline. Subheads can be used within the article as well, to separate specific parts of the article and divide it up. This is a good technique to make your article easier to skim. When writing subheads, use the same techniques that you use for headlines.

The Em Dash

The em dash (—) is used to separate a clause from a sentence. For example, “How to clean a dishwasher—and why” is a more effective headline than “How and why you should clean your dishwasher.” Don’t put any spaces before or after the em dash.

The word “And”

In some cases, commas can be used in place of the word “and.” This is a good technique if you are trying to shorten a headline.

Quotation Marks

AP recommends only using single quote marks in headlines (‘) rather than double quotes (“). Don’t use quote marks for emphasis!

Headline Trends:

Lists are really popular. For example, “9 ways to make kale delicious.”

Depending on the topic, informal headlines could be a great way of appearing more conversational to your audience. For example, “So this kale recipe is delicious, and you won’t go back to romaine”

Asking a question in the headline. For example, “A day without kale?” Just make sure your question can’t be quickly answered with a “no.” For example, “Could kale be the food to end all colds?”.

That’s all for now

Don’t forget to check out part two, Writing Compelling Content, which digs into to some useful tips for writing the main content of your website or article including some really useful SEO tips.

Sources (thanks!):

Lynda.com “Writing for the Web” https://www.lynda.com/Web-Content-Strategy-tutorials/Writing-Web/180104-2.html

Lynda.com “Writing Headlines” https://www.lynda.com/Content-Marketing-tutorials/Writing-Headlines/461915-2.html

Yoast “SEO copywriting: the ultimate guide” https://yoast.com/complete-guide-seo-copywriting/

QuickSprout “Headline Writing 101: How to Write Attention Grabbing Headlines and convert” https://www.quicksprout.com/the-definitive-guide-to-copywriting-chapter-3/