Writing for the Web: Using Your Middle Brain


Ever tried writing for the web? Ever wonder why it’s so hard? There’s an awful lot of brainpower that is needed in order to write great web copy—a mixture of both sides of the brain.

If your brain was a computer (which it really is), and it ran a program like “Web Writer 6.0,” you’d need a super-fast PC to run it. You’d also have to clear your cache and defrag a lot. In my world, that’s called sleep.

So, let’s think about how that PC in your head works when you sit down to write for the web.

Left Brain

The left side of your brain does all of the highly technical work. Over there, your brain is slugging away researching the topic, breaking down the information into logical groups, and creating a process by which the reader is going to take in the information.

Aside from the writing, there’s also a lot of left-brained stuff that you’ve got to keep in mind that is specific to web writing. You need to find the best ways to use specific keywords, write perfect anchor text for incoming links, worry about ALT tags, and so on.

In fact, the whole idea of writing for a human and a computerized audience, namely the search engines, is rather overwhelming at first. Sometimes you feel like you’re writing for the HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey. You say, “Open the Pod Bay doors, HAL.” HAL says, “Sorry, but you didn’t optimize for ‘Pod Bay Doors.’ Would you care to take a short spacewalk without your suit, instead?”

Right Brain

On the other side, there’s the right brain stuff. That’s where you put your creative marketing hat on and crank up the charm. You focus on your readers’ emotional sides and get into their heads. While filling up their minds with facts and information sent over from the left side, the right side is tasked with keeping your readers interested. Keeping it interesting is key to turning a casual visitor into an active customer.

Middle Brain

So (news flash), there really isn’t a middle brain, per se. But, writing for the web requires so much right brain and left brain activity that most of the work probably happens in that soggy middle. The right side creates the draft, and the left side perfects it. Write, edit, write, edit… rinse, repeat. The left brain identifies the need to optimize the content, and the right brain finds creative ways to accomplish the optimization.

Writing for the web is a subtle mixture of one part technical writing, one part marcom writing, and one part writing for search engines. By the way, you can’t get a degree (yet) in that last one.

There are ways that you can develop your middle brain. If you are more of a right brain thinker, then you want to develop your left brain, and vice versa. For example, if you are a rational, left brain thinker and want to develop your more creative right brain, you can select a photograph from a magazine each week with two or more people in it and think up a funny caption that is as outrageous and far removed from the actual situation as possible. Balanced left brain/right brain thinking will make you a better web writer.

The web’s best writers are most comfortable working in that middle brain—that strange place where words swirl like meteors caught in the gravitational pull between celestial objects.

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