Outline of a session on writing for the web for journalism students (from 2009, so pretty dated now). Used in conjunction with class discussion and keyword, headline writing, story rewrite and story writing exercises.
That’s three ways to find news you want. So how do most people find news stories?
Roughly half of the visitors to any given news story come to that story via a search
engine. That’s not an exact figure and it varies from site to site and story to story, but it
gives a rough idea of how powerful search can be in driving visitors to your website.
… the search engine scans the web for pages that feature those keywords.
It pulls out the pages containing those keywords….
… weighs up how many times the keywords appear, where in the page they appear…
… then looks at how many other websites are linking to these pages. This one has just a
This one has lots of links – which means it is more likely to be relevant and useful to you
(because lots of other people have found it useful enough to link to).
The search engine then RANKS all the pages - according to how many times the
keywords appeared, where they appeared, and how many websites link to the pages –
and displays the results with the most relevant page at the top.
Because keywords are so fundamental to how search engines work, and so many people
find news stories using search, it makes sense to include keywords in your stories.
On the left is the front page of the New York Times announcing the outcome of the 2009
US presidential election. On the right is the same news story carried on nytimes.com.
Notice that the web headline includes the words ‘elected’ and ‘president’ – keywords.
Which of these headlines is least likely to be clicked on?
The headline Horse Sense on Frontiers makes sense here when you have the secondary
headline, picture and caption to help. But the headline on its own doesn’t make sense.
Headlines on the web need to make sense on their own – to give people a reason to
Again, this is about giving people a reason to read further. Explaining what the story is
about in the first paragraph helps the reader decide whether they want to read on.
In addition, on smaller news websites the first paragraph will be automatically picked
…and used as an ’abstract’ on the homepage. So the first paragraph, or intro, needs to
sell the story.
That’s not always the case, though. On bigger news sites, the intro is sometimes
rewritten to fit the homepage.
Here, nytimes.com has rewritten the story’s intro to fit a particular space on the
This is about giving the reader more to do than just read the text – and hopefully
keeping them on your website longer.
If you scroll down on the nytimes.com Obama story…
… you see that they’ve included a video of Obama’s victory speech, another of John
McCain’s concession speech, an interactive map of the US giving voting results for each
state, links to related stories….
… and links to blogs and readers’ comments on the story. There’s a lot more there for
readers to engage with than just the story itself.
Reading online is a different experience to reading print. It’s helpful to make pages as
clear and easy to read as possible.
The Guardian does that here in a few ways. The key elements - headline, byline and date
stamp, image/video, text – are all clearly contained within ‘blocks’ of space. There’s
plenty of white space used, so the page isn’t cluttered – you can see quickly where the
headline is, for example. There is a space between each paragraph, which makes the text
easier to read, and a sans-serif typeface has been chosen, which a number of studies
have shown to be easier to read online than serif type (although some people disagree).
Finally, including links to material cited in the story, or that gives more information about
the story, can add context, lead readers to other parts of your website, and be a useful
service to readers.
In the case of the guardian.co.uk story, they’ve added links to other science stories,
other World news stories, a podcast on a similar topic and stories about dinosaurs.
In the case of the nytimes.com Obama story, they’ve added links to other stories written
about the election and the challenges facing the Obama administration.