10 Web Content Writing Punctuation Rules to Live By

At The Content Factory, we’re really finicky about using proper punctuation while web content writing, and we like things to be done in a certain way (specifically, the right way). Writing for the web isn’t the same as writing for a magazine, newspaper or community college English paper, you know. This is right from our writing guide, and I figured I'd share it with the world.

Part of writing exceptional SEO content is to write exceptional content in general — we're big proponents of that idea at The Content Factory. If you write informative articles in a way that makes people want to pass them on, you're going to get backlinks like crazy and the post will have real staying power when it comes to driving traffic.

If your content looks like it was written by a cat walking on a keyboard, you're never going to get any real traction. Here are the 10 web content writing punctuation rules we live by:

1.) Semicolons

bigstock-Vintage-typewriter-comma-key-i-26089415I could go on about how semicolons have no place on the Internet, but I’ll let Kurt Vonnegut do the talking for me: “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” So, don’t use semicolons in any of the blogs you write — they just alienate the reader and make you look pretentious. Besides, you don't think you're a better writer than Kurt Vonnegut, do you?

2.) Exclamation marks

Really, try not to use them. Most of the time, they only succeed in making the writer look cheesy. When you do use them, never put two in the same paragraph (or at the end of one paragraph and the beginning of another), and limit yourself to a max of two per page.

3.) Quotation marks

"Always put your punctuation inside your quotation marks,” Joanie said. “Leaving them outside of the quotation marks like this”, she continued, “is never appropriate.” Plus, they make people who know better roll their eyes (and wouldn't you rather have them focused on what you're trying to say?).

4.) Parentheses

If you’re writing a sentence and want to use parentheses (like I’m doing now), the punctuation always goes on the outside. Notice where I put the comma in my last sentence? If you’re ending your parentheses at the end of a sentence, the punctuation still goes on the outside (like I’m doing here). Also, don't use too many of them (like I do). I really can't help myself, though.

5.) Hyperlinks

I realized this has a whole lot of nothing to do with punctuation, but I’m putting this here anyway. If you’re writing a blog and talking about specific businesses or websites, hyperlink to them. Please note, “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperlink” is not a hyperlink. Don’t be lazy, make it look nice!

punctuation tips for web content writing

6.) Hyphenation

If you’re not sure whether you need to hyphenate words, Google it real quick. For the record, e-mail is always hyphenated.

7.) Capitalization

Don’t capitalize insignificant words (the, of, and, etc.) in titles, unless they're the first word, natch. Resist the urge — this is a common error! Also, there's no need to capitalize the keywords that you're trying to incorporate into your copy. If you're trying to target the keyword "social media management," it shouldn't be capitalized awkwardly. "These five Social Media Management tips will help get your Internet public relations campaign off the ground," is not the right way to write it out — it just draws attention to the fact that you're trying to be sly about keyword stuffing while content writing. Instead, capitalize things naturally and the reader will focus on what you're saying, not your poor SEO content writing skills.

8.) Internet and web

Internet is a lot like America, in that it’s always capitalized. Whether it’s the first word or the third, it’s still a proper noun. Unlike Internet, web is not capitalized. Web should only be capitalized when it’s the first word of your sentence.

9.) Commas

Don’t be afraid to use them, but don’t use Oxford commas. It’s “red, white and blue,” not “red, white, and blue.” That red comma is of the Oxford variety, and they're outdated and redundant like Uggs in the summertime.

10.) Numbers

One through nine should always be written out, write out 10 and above in numbers. But you already knew that, right?

So, those are the 10 basic web content writing punctuation rules. If you write using proper grammar and punctuation, you're more likely to be trusted and viewed as an expert (or at least somebody who knows what they're talking about). Whether you're writing status updates while marketing with Facebook or writing linkbait blogs in an effort to get backlinks, the quality of the writing is important.

This is especially true when you're using Twitter for marketing and are limited to 140 characters or fewer. When you have to get a message across in a way that piques the interest of your target market and you don't have a lot of space to work with, good writing skills come in handy (and are more likely to get a positive response). On the other hand, when you're writing 1,000+ word pieces, poor punctuation can turn the reader off by word #50. Nobody wants to suffer through a poorly written article, no matter what kind of information it features.

If your web content writing skills aren't up to par, there's no need to be embarrassed. You can always hire a professional web content writing service — it may be more affordable than you think. At the very least, try typing out everything into Microsoft Word (or the equivalent) so you can use the red and green squigglies as a guide before sending a tweet, posting a new status update in Facebook or publishing a new blog.

If you take care to make sure you're always posting good content, you'll eventually reap the rewards in the form of additional traffic and clicks from social media marketing efforts. Three additional web content and social media management writing tips:

1.) If you see an error on your site, go in and change it. Don't leave mistakes on your website or blog — if you see an error, make a point of going in and changing it. You never know what potential client may be reading the copy, so make sure it's always something you'd be proud to present.

2.) Delete bad tweets. No matter how careful you are, sometimes you're going to send bad tweets while using Twitter for marketing. When you send several a day, it's bound to happen every now and then. Whether the link is broken or there was a critical spelling error, go back and delete the bad tweets.

3.) Keep your Facebook page clean. It doesn't have to be obvious when you're marketing with Facebook. Savvy social media marketers know to keep their page interactive — and clean of blurry photos and spammy comments. Delete Farmville requests and public offers of "private chats" from mail order brides from Russia.

Okay, so those are the basics. If you can think of any that I've missed, feel free to let me know and I'll add it to the list (and give you credit). I think it might be cool to continually update the list, until it's somewhat of an ultimate punctuation guide for web content writing.

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22 Comments

  • Nice post! Thanks for giving a clear guide. Punctuation errors are rampant on the Internet and I love seeing posts like this that offer some general rules.

    To be fair on the comma issue, serial commas are a matter of ongoing debate. The preferred style changes back and forth over time. Personally, I’m generally in favor of the serial comma. I think it adds clarity in many cases.

    As far as parentheses, this may be obvious to some but not to others: if the whole sentence is inside parentheses, then the punctuation is too. (Like in this sentence, for example.)

    Also, saying that punctuation always goes inside quotation marks is true and not true. More accurately, commas and periods always go inside quotation marks. (And I think that’s a U.S. thing, right? In the U.K. I believe they do it differently?) More importantly, though, people can get confused about ? ! ; and so on and where they fit in with quotation marks. I’m sure the author of this post and most people reading this already know this.

    Both of these are correct:
    She asked “Did you eat the cake?”
    Did you hear her say “Let them eat cake”?

    As for Internet being capitalized, I know it is and I always do it that way but I am ready for it to be lower case. No reason, really. I just am. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Now I’m getting paranoid about my punctuation in this post! ๐Ÿ™‚ Hopefully I got it more or less correct!

    • Excellent Post.. But i have a doubt to ask. My boss prefers commas to be used as if on a English Text book.. how should i explain it is not a proper marketing or SEO content?… ( i am sure a fat boss is hard to deal with)
      Furthermore I prefer to use Commas only when mentioning a group. Like you said Orange, apple and Banana.I prefer to use commas, only when I want the reader to pause and I don’t care much about Traditional English Grammar(on Punctuations) is that right?

  • Thanks for the post! I am constantly disappointed by the lack of effort people put into their writing, from blogs to e-mails to letters.

    I’m not a fan of the serial comma, as I think it’s confusing. And I think semicolons, used correctly, are a great way to punctuate. Sorry Mr. Vonnegut! It stops me from using en dashes all the time. Which I love.

    And, after living in the U.K. for over 10 years, their punctuation in regards to quotation marks is much different, and more appropriate, in my view.

    Lastly, I agree with Pam, above. I am also ready for the Internet to be lower case!

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  • I am very happy to tell you that your entire posts are superb and I really love the way you put each and every sentence. You will be rated 8.75 out of 10. Brilliant work,keep it up. Your sense of grammar is simply outstanding. Continue the good work.

  • can you offer guest writers to write content for yourself? I wouldn’t mind creating a post or elaborating on a few of the subjects you write in relation to here. Again, awesome web site!

  • Rule 9 about commas is a tricky one. Seems like in the U.S. we always do it the way you suggested, but in Europe (which is where I live now), the Oxford rule is often applied. Also, tell me more about the numbers rule. This is not something I’ve heard before…

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