Writing for an online publication

When you submit an article for publication in an online publication, you want it published.  Here are a few tips to prevent your e mail from ending up in the editor’s deleted items.

I have been running an online newspaper for almost 8 years, have published around 30 000 articles and feel that I am qualified to comment on the subject.

Title:

  • Don’t use only uppercase. I only know of a handful of publications that post the title in upper case, so the editor will have to retype your title.
  • Keep your title down to around 70 characters [with spaces]. You need to grab the reader’s attention immediately – and it just fits better in the layout.
  • Be careful when using exclamation marks – your article may be important to you, but may not be important in the greater scheme of things.
  • Either put article title in e mail title or say e.g. “Press Release”.  Don’t put a sort-of article title as the e mail title and then have another title once e mail is opened.  Changing the permalink is a pain.

First paragraph:

  • Nail it down. Don’t entice readers into opening an article they wouldn’t normally do with some cryptic introduction.  You may get some clicks in the short term, but if you destroy your credibility with cheap tricks, you will lose your readers in the long run.
  • Don’t start your article with a quote. It may be artsy, but it’s going to send the Google algorithm on a wild goose chase after a cat in a hat.  Save the quotes for later in the article.
  • No more than 200 characters – preferably in one sentence. Most online publications highlight your first paragraph with an H-tag [which makes the text bigger than the rest and also attracts Google’s attention] – so make it count.

Content:

  • Spelling and grammar. No one has time to fix your mistakes, so run your article through a spellchecker.  I use Grammarly – it’s free and very good. 
  • Remember that your judge is the algorithm and not the editor.  Make sure you understand how it works.  Optimum keyword density means higher rankings and more readers.
  • Use short sentences and paragraphs – even one sentence per paragraph is fine.
  • Use highlights and italics judiciously and sparingly. Google does look for this, but overkill will get you penalized.
  • Use bulleted lists. This is something Google looks for and it makes you present your material in a concise way.
  • Incorporate your hyperlinks into the text.  Follow us on Facebook is just so much more professional than follow us on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com.  Make sure the link opens in a new window – no one wants you taking their readers away from their publication.  The same goes for all links.  Google loves hyperlinks in the content, so use them – but take some pride.
  • Be careful when you cut and paste an article from another source – you often pick the formatting – like text blocks which the editor then has to get rid of.
  • Content may be king, but unique content is the emperor.  Editors will gladly take more time if their publication is the only one you submit to.
  • Single line spacing. Submit your article in single line spacing – the Content Management System [CMS] the publications use will automatically add the space.  Double line spacing means the editor has to run through the article and remove all the extra spaces.
  • Most publications have a submit form. If you’re only submitting to one publication then use it.  The images are uploaded to the site in the process and the editor doesn’t still then have to do so.
  • If you send lots of images then write enough text. Editors tend to put images between paragraphs, so if you write 3 paragraphs and send 10 images, 7 of them won’t get published.
  • Don’t send links to images in drop boxes. They’re usually too high resolution and I don’t always know which one you’d like me to use.  Rather send me the images you prefer.
  • It’s not necessary to send a word count to an online publication – space is not limited like with a printed one.

 Image Captions

  • Remember these are captions so keep them short.
  • Avoid using unusual characters like hyphens – the CMS programmes don’t upload them which means the editor has to change them.
  • If you really want to be fancy then add alternative text. One sentence telling a bit more about the photograph.  Google is almost obsessed with this.
  • Always credit the photographer.

General

  • Don’t send articles in .pdf.  When you cut and paste from a .pdf document the formatting goes haywire and the editor will have to fix it.  Only send .pdf documents as add-ons like entry forms, agendas etc. – something the reader can download and print.
  • Photographs and other images. Don’t send images bigger than 1 Mb – they are cumbersome to manage and don’t give you any better quality as they will be resized in any case.  Landscape images need not be any wider than 640 pixels and portrait, half that.  Send at least one image, otherwise, I have to go and find one – and it may be the wrong one. 
  • Make sure images names and captions correspond.
  • I know you want your article to look good, but the editor and the layout people are going to change it anyway – so give them what they need and your article will stand a greater chance of being published.
  • Hashtags & Mentions. These will give your article wings on social media.  A Hashtag like #MadibaDay Facebook] will be aggregated with all other articles using it.  So if someone searches it, chances are they’ll find your article.  Mentions like @gremlintweets [Twitter] will notify the owner of that handle that you want them to look at something.  Ask the publication to use these when sharing on social media.  It will benefit them as well.
  • Send your article in the body of the e mail and the images as attachments. Sending the article as an attachment means the editor has to open another document.
  • Send an excerpt – a little executive summary. Most CMS programmes have a space for them and they will improve your Google rankings.
  • Separate e mail lists for online and print. Online publications require relatively low-resolution images.  Downloading and resizing large images takes time.
  • Name, contact details & Bio. Make sure you include the author’s details.

Bruce Middleton

072 575 7404

bruce@thegremlin.co.za

www.thegremlin.co.za

BIO: Adding value to my domain hosting and internet advertising service by running a high traffic internet newspaper for the Garden Route where my clients and other local businesses can advertise, share opinion pieces and publish press releases. Daily readership now over 5000 unique visitors per day and over 45000 unique visitors per month. Slowly getting the hang of Social Media.

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