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Adapting Your Print Content for Online

Written by Kim Machado on June 05, 2012

Photo by Petr Kratochvil

Writing for the Web

Let’s face it, writing for online is not the same as writing for print because people read differently on the web. As popular UK author Gerry McGovern noted in his 2001 Web Style Guide, which remains relevant today despite countless technological advances, one of the impediments to online reading is physical: it’s harder to read on a screen than it is on paper. More important than that however, he points out that the more significant barrier that web contributors must overcome to engage an online reader is not physical, but behavioral.  

People behave differently when online. When viewing a new page, they don’t read right away – they scan first. They look at headlines and sub-headings first browsing for relevant words; then they scan for hyperlinks and keywords. They jump around, scrolling, touching, pinching and clicking, their fingers never far from the browser’s “Back” button. The word McGovern used 12 years ago to best describe an online reader’s behavior was impatient, and there is no question that still stands today.

No matter how many new devices or methods we use to consume online content, the challenge for web editors is to overcome readers’ impatience by keeping things as clear and as brief as possible. It’s a big challenge, especially if most of editorial resources are still focused on creating print content.

Four Keys to Web-Friendly Content Originating from Print

The key to successfully implementing articles that originated in print is designing them to be web-friendly. Here are 4 simple ways you can leverage print content to better serve your web audience and keep visitors engaged.

Photo by Petr Kratochvil

1. Create Highly Impactful Visual Entry Points:

  • When re-purposing articles, create a more successful user experience by editing the copy to include multiple visual entry points. Create visual entry points — in the form of subheads, bullets, and/or bold lead-ins to create smaller bites of copy. This allows users to digest the information quickly and easily and they’ll likely spend more time on the page and click through to subsequent pages to finish reading the article.
  • Include hyperlinks wherever possible throughout articles to increase SEO and to encourage users to click-through to explore more related content.
  • Break up the copy with leading questions that speak directly to the user to feed their curiosity to find out what the answer is — this is a successful tactic and keeps the reader engaged.
Here is a quick example of how a 230-word print could be reformatted for online reading:

BEFORE: Print Sidebar

WHAT DRUGS MIGHT AFFECT BESIDES YOUR MOOD

All meds carry risks, and those that treat emotional issues are no exception. But don't let fear stop you from getting help. "Not everyone experiences side effects," says Carlos A. Zarate, M.D., chief experimental therapeutics of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. "It's essential to work with your docs to tailor your treatment." Below, some common concerns.

Unfortunately, many antidepressants and anti-psychotics can cause weight gain, including anti-psychotics such as Zyprexa, among others, which are often used to treat bipolar disorder, according to Dr. Zarate. Some research has shown that certain types can lead to especially rapid weight gain and metabolic shifts that can increase the risk for diabetes. The exact reason for this effect isn't known, but one theory is that the drugs impair satiety centers in the brain, causing increased appetite.

Patients who gain weight in the first week of treatment are most apt to keep gaining. "If that's the case for you and diet and exercise aren't working, ask your doctor about trying a drug that has not been linked to weight gain, such as Wellbutrin," Dr. Zarate says.

Keep in mind that if you're gaining weight, the drug may not be to blame. "When mood improves, some people also find that appetite does, too," Dr. Zarate says. Work with your doc to develop a healthy eating and exercise plan.

AFTER: Reformatted for online

WHAT DRUGS MIGHT AFFECT BESIDES YOUR MOOD

What you need to know now about side effects of drugs—before you pop your next pill.

All meds carry risks, and those that treat emotional issues are no exception. But don't let fear stop you from getting help. "Not everyone experiences side effects from drugs," says Carlos A. Zarate, M.D., chief experimental therapeutics of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. "It's essential to work with your docs to tailor your treatment." Below, some common concerns.

"What if my meds make me gain weight?"

The reality

Unfortunately, many antidepressants and anti-psychotics can cause weight gain, including anti-psychotics such as Zyprexa, among others, which are often used to treat bipolar disorder, according to Dr. Zarate. Some research has shown that certain types can lead to especially rapid weight gain and metabolic shifts that can increase the risk for diabetes. The exact reason for this effect isn't known, but one theory is that the drugs impair satiety centers in the brain, causing increased appetite.

How to handle it

  • Patients who gain weight in the first week of treatment are most apt to keep gaining. "If that's the case for you and diet and exercise aren't working, ask your doctor about trying a drug that has not been linked to weight gain, such as Wellbutrin," Dr.Zarate says.
  • Keep in mind that if you're gaining weight, the drug may not be to blame. "When mood improves, some people also find that appetite does, too," Dr. Zarate says. Work with your doc to develop a healthy eating and exercise plan.

Photo courtesy Creative Commons

2. Re-Package, Bundle, or Un-bundle Print Content 

Another great way to re-purpose print content for the web is to pull snippets from an article or combination of articles to create web-friendly content that can be repackaged and delivered via daily tips or through a visual slideshow.  Here is an example of how a paragraph evolved into five daily tips.  

BEFORE: Original Content

Fibre — Superfood Aids Weight Loss and Checks Cholesterol

A diet high in fibre will help you maintain healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels. As a bonus, because fibre helps you feel full longer, it's a great tool in weight management. Whole grains, beans, fruit, and vegetables are all good sources. Try throwing some beans in your salad, recommends Kulze. "Fresh, frozen, or dried are the best. You can use canned, but they tend to be higher in sodium," Kulze warns.

AFTER: Five Daily Health Tips

MONDAY: Fibre is a super food that aids weight loss and checks cholesterol.

TUESDAY: A diet high in fibre will help you maintain healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

WEDNESDAY: Fibre helps you feel full longer, so it's a great tool in weight management.

THURSDAY: Whole grains, beans, fruit, and vegetables are all good sources of fibre.

FRIDAY: Try throwing some beans in your salad to get more fibre. Fresh, frozen, or dried are the best; canned tend to be higher in sodium.

These tips could be published via social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr), in an email newsletter, or on the magazine’s website. One or all of the tips could be used to promote the full story in the magazine, prompting online readers to pick up a copy or could be packaged and sponsored by an online advertiser.

3. SEO Friendly Headlines

Quirky titles and article headlines in magazines work great in print format because they are usually associated with visual queues making it easy for the reader to identify what the story is about. In print, page presentation, images and accompanying text increase a headline’s impact. A headline like “Kick Up Your Heels” associated with pictures of ten of the season’s hottest shoe styles works great in print, but won’t get you anywhere online. People searching for the hottest shoe trends won’t be typing “Kick Up Your Heels” into Search. When posting print articles online, write headlines using keywords that directly represent the content, and better yet – are popular search terms in search engines. 

The most important factor to keep in mind when writing SEO-friendly copy is to saturate the content with relevant keywords and key phrases, as determined by keyword research. Prior to re-writing headlines, research popular key words/key phrases in the major search engines by typing them in and seeing what populates the drop-down suggestions to help define best key words/phrases to focus on.

Check your analytics software (i.e., WebTrends, Google Analytics) to see what keyword/keyword phrases people use to get to your site or use around content which can be found on your site.

 Photo by Amit Burstein

4. Create Strong Calls to Action

Calls to action are the most important method to get users clicking through and spending more time on your site, as well as creating a better user experience. It’s a means to guide the user to take the action you want them to take, lead them through the process of exploring the site, and help them easily find what they want. Strong calls to action also underscore how the site is helpful, useful, and easy to navigate — not only will this increase page views and time spent per visit, but will also encourage visitors to return again and again.

Including calls to action on every page, not just the homepage or landing pages, will invite users to keep exploring. Too often, pages per visit statistics are low because publishers miss the opportunity to promote additional online content or fail to invoke emotion giving users little reason to engage more with the site. Here are some simple but impactful terms you can use to further engage readers with your content:

Sample Calls to Action:

  • Get More (Get More Ideas; Get More Daily Tips; etc.)
  • Share  (Share Your Tip; Share Your Photo; Share Your Idea; etc.)
  • Vote Now!  Enter Now! (Link to Contests, Polls, Surveys)
  • Join the Conversation (Link for Forums, Social Media)
  • What Do You Think? (Comments, Polls, Reader Submissions)
  • Browse Ideas (or add #: Browse 100+ Ideas)

Related resources:
Folio MediaPRO blog: The Acquired: How publishers are transforming the traditional model through acquisitions


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