To re-purpose the famous words of an infamous paperclip, “It looks like you’re trying to… write content for a digital audience…?”
Even when I started out in the newsroom over 11 years ago – originally a newspaper focused arena – I’ve always held onto the mantra that a newspaper [publisher]’s digital content should adhere to the same standards any print content does (read Steve Buttry on digital content standards).
Print isn’t web isn’t a liveblog isn’t social etc, in terms of style, the audience and the differing needs of that content. But, it’s all content with an associated journalistic brand and author and as such should adhere to a level of journalistic quality – whether it’s printed on paper or scrolling on screen. Use the appropriate content skills and standards and give it the best chance of getting the widest audience regardless of the platform.
Well here’s my digital strategy from within a multi-platform news publisher, i.e. print, web & social…
A few opening thoughts: Your story could be competing against competitor versions, locally or nationally. Make it easily findable, quickly scannable for the growing percentage of your audience finding content on mobile devices – and potentially not anywhere near your website.
Encourage and make sharing as easy as possible – the headline performs various roles for readers, within social streams and for search engines – neglect it at your peril.
- Web headlines: find a balance between clever wordplay and selling the story to people in one line one.
Ideally it must work as an easily identifiable phrase and as shareable as possible (read more about how and why shareability is important) on social media too.
If from print, must contain at least one keyword – add place name, surname, organisation, event title etc. to ensure getting noticed and avoid ambiguity.
Above all remember, your headline may well be seen all alone on a small screen, no intro, photo or branding to add context – it has to make people click on it, all on it’s own merits.
- Intros: all of the above not already mentioned. Titles, sports teams and players should initially be referenced in full before using nicknames. Not everyone will know/understand the reference (including search engines) and ensures being found by either name via web or social searches.
- Date stamp: I’m a big fan of a date stamp, don’t leave the article reader wondering when the story was written or last updated, and ‘today’, ‘Monday’ etc should always be followed by ‘(6 March)’.
A ‘live’ or unfolding story should always start with the last updated time. Don’t make readers guess how up-to-date story is.
- Keywords: Always write every person’s name, business, location in full initially, teams nicknames should be used, but the first reference should always be a full team name. Not everyone reading or searching for the story will use or be fully aware of a nickname or common local term. This also helps to give the content a better chance of being, found, read, shared, interacted with.
- Bylines: journalist should be associated with lead story for everyone’s benefit, adds a point of contact for feedback and interaction. Also benefits search engine ranking assigning known content author.
Read more on ‘Why bother with Google Authorship?‘
- Sub-heads: break up the content for digital readers who will frequently be skimming quickly at various times, and more and more often via small mobile screens, lists are also key ways of ‘chunking’ content more efficiently for a time-poor online audience.
- Call to action: encourage debate via commenting or social media. Ask a leading question, ask for interested readers or potential experts to engage or contribute – it’s not lazy journalism, it’s opening up the news process in a digital age where the barriers of communication and interaction have come down.
- Links – related content/sources: if it’s a follow-up to a previous event, link back (and ideally forward from previous), or create a timeline for an ongoing event and link new articles back to. Don’t leave dead ends encouraging users to leave the website, add efficient context – no point re-adding backstory to each online article as might be done in print. People might be put off reading an unnecessarily overlong piece.
- External links: if it’s important or a focal point of the story, make URLs clickable, ideally not just to a homepage if a specific page (don’t leave users straned on a strange site, not sure where to look), add value to the story and the page in the short and long term.
You should always link back to sources, let other people see where the facts/quotes/stats came from.
And why link? Because links are what the Web is built on!
And, remember the link text should describe what the link is/where it link goes, never ‘click here’ alone. Read: Why is link text so important? from Webcredible
- Captions: Keep it simple, who, where, when, and credit, always credit as you would any other piece of content or information someone else has provided. And you would expect the same in return…
- Updates: Always close the story, if a breaking story has progressed or ended at a later time/date, update the intro timestamp to immediately identify new information and alwaystie-up loose ends, don’t leave readers wondering what happened. (Or the story lives on in the archives, forever waiting for closure…)
- Corrections: As should be an obvious strategy, always correct errors in online version of story, if a serious change, particularly if any legal issue, reference this change and date stamp it at the end of the story.