Getting printed content online – means rewriting not just posting

Content has long been crowned king of importance. The reasons are obvious – give people the information they need or want to achieve their goals or tasks and ultimately you achieve your goals for success. So if content is so important why isn’t it given the attention it deserves?

Posting brochure wear online is a common practice that doesn’t give content the respect it deserves. You wouldn’t put a film on radio or a radio spot on a poster – each medium needs messaging tailored for it. Though it is slowly seeping into the culture that websites are viewed differently then print and there seems to be a growing understanding that writing for the web is different then writing for print, people are still taking the easy way out and posting print material online “for now”. But it just doesn’t work – the truth is, anything written for print needs to be rewritten if it’s going on your website.

Content for Print

When writing and designing for print it is understood that the information printed will be static – it can’t change and therefore should have some longevity. The printed matter usually serves one master – either promotional/marketing purposes, informative or educational. Very rarely will you have a printed piece that has multiple mandates. Therefore, print pieces usually have one tone or style of writing – it can be formal – say for an annual report, or informal – for an event. And since the audience can be defined writing can reflect the audiences’ demographics – annual reports are typically written for the financially savvy, there is an expectation of knowledge; promotional pieces are littered with adjectives. Print is understood to be a push communication – you need to distribute it to a defined audience where you’ll be sure they’ll receive it but never sure if they’ll read it.

And now you want to put that online?

Let’s change gears, the information highway has its own rules, and while content still reigns it needs some careful handling.


Content for Online

Content for online is meant to be dynamic – it better change or you’ll lose your audience. The more it changes and invites interactivity the more respect your site will get. Online content serves many masters – people can enter your site from various pages and for various reasons – they may be searching for information or be ready to purchase – and you need to be ready for the opportunity to give them what they want. You’re not going to know your audience before they get to your site so writing needs to be simple, clear and concise. Online is understood to be a pull communication – you need to pull or attract people to your site, once on your site the goal becomes getting them to return and even to stay a while.

Print and online are different mediums. People even see and read them differently. Consider that:

  • Reading is harder to do online since screens have flicker rates and varying resolutions so your eyes need a break more often than with print and screens are read 25% slower than paper.
  • 79% of readers scan pages so content online needs to be chunked into manageable bites with subheadings denoting different topics.
  • Wording needs to be concise – you have seconds to get your point across and you’re competing with all types of distractions.
  • People read print in a linear way – one page at a time; start to finish. People jump around web pages – following links according to their interest – they may come back to the original article or they may not.
So it’s not a simple case of putting print online as website content. Print material should be condensed by 50% when being put online and it needs to be rewritten.

Here are some tips for converting printed content for use online:

  1. As Thomas Jefferson said, "The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do."

  2. As to the adjective, follow Mark Twain’s advice “When in doubt, leave it out.”

  3. Check your spelling and grammar – you can even turn on a readability option in Word, under Tools> Spelling and Grammar, that will indicate grade level and reading ease.

Content Article

  1. Use links to reference or add depth to different areas.
  2. Add credibility - Source your material and include its date. Update content frequently.


For more detailed tips read:

Writing for the Web

And for anything over one screen long or about 250 words – please make sure there is a print option. Content is King and some people will always prefer the printed page.

Sources for statistics: Nielsen Norman Group;