Luke Johnson
Luke Johnson
October 23, 2018
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Six simple ways to help your content perform better, and to make it easier to read.

The internet is a busy place. Counting Wordpress blogs alone, over 2 million new blog posts are published every single day. That is over 1,500 per minute!

Perhaps it is partially due to this non-stop torrent of information that people read differently online. Since 1997, user experience research has shown that the vast majority of people merely skim, while only 16% actually read a page's full contents.

So how do you make your voice heard in a textual hurricane amongst people who aren't really listening?

1. Write with a specific person in mind.

It is worth spending some time to determine who your intended audience is. Who are you trying to reach? What are their questions and challenges? How might you become a resource for them?

Do a quick ‘persona' sketch: If your target is a business manager who leads multiple teams of field workers, jot down some details about this person to act as a ‘relevancy guide' as you prepare your material. “Does this point matter to this person? Does it have any bearing on this person's ‘pain points'?”

2. Structure your content with headings to help your skimmers find what they need.

Whether you are writing a short post or a long exposé, headings will help your readers to stay engaged.

Skim-readers might give your post a quick scroll to judge if it is worth reading. Without headings, your post will look like an unfriendly wall of text, and they will quickly move on to another website.

Give some thought to your headings. 

Try to deliver your main point in the heading itself so that if all your visitors have bothered to read are your headings, they will come away at least with an idea of the flow of your argument. By delivering your point upfront, your readers will receive the most essential or most compelling message right away, and then may read on if you have piqued their interest.

3. Make liberal use of lists.

People like lists. Here's why:

  • Lists are easy to read because each thought gets its own marker.
  • Lists are low-commitment because readers can see immediately the length of the content you are asking them to read.
  • Lists are reassuring because they offer finalityUsers will happily skim down your "Ten Tips for Increasing Conversion Rate", knowing they've reached the end when they see point number 10.
  • Lists are easy to find on the page. On a page filled with long paragraphs, a list stands out to the eye because it is slightly indented and will usually be separated by whitespace before and after.

Wasn't that easy to read? To compare, here is how I might have written the same information in paragraph form:

Lists are easy to read because each thought gets its own marker. Lists are also low-commitment. This is because readers can see immediately the length of the content you are asking them to read. In addition, lists are reassuring because they offer finality. Users will happily skim down your "Ten Tips for Increasing Conversion Rate", knowing tey've reached the ened when they see point number 10. Finally, lists are easy to find on the page. On a page filled with long paragraphs, a list stands out to the eye because it is slightly indented and will usually be separated by whitespace before and after.

4. Use concise, compelling, carefully-chosen words.

People on the web are impatient and don't easily trust. They won't wait for you to make your point, so it is very important to carefully craft what you say. Be ruthless with yourself in your choice of words. If it isn't essential, drop it.

Brevity is important especially for marketing messages. Your first contact with a reader is about relating in a compelling way. Once you have compelled someone to connect with you, you have an open door to further interaction and education.

What about longer content?

That being said, long-form content isn't bad. Long articles can perform very well because search engines have more material to use in matching a user's query to your content. And long-form content is useful to your readers, too, especially if the post has been written as a reference article or authoritative guide.

Just be sure to structure the content well, with headings, lists, pull-out quotes, and descriptive images to break up the text and to make the information easier to consume.

5. Consider your reader's cognitive load.

Perhaps you write your posts in a quiet office setting, in optimized lighting, and with minimal distractions. But in all likelihood, this is not the case for your readers. They might be dealing with loud music or disruptive conversation, crying children or a cat walking across the keyboard. Maybe your reader has some form of visual or auditory impairment, or is viewing the screen through a jungle of post-it notes.

Whatever the case, when we write for the web, we must be mindful of potential distractions and barriers so that people can easily receive what we want to deliver.

6. Write like you talk.

Writing for the web isn't like writing technical documentation, academic essays, or official legal statements. You will keep your reader's attention longer by writing like you speak.

A good rule of thumb:

If you wouldn't say it like that, don't write it like that!

When you have finished writing your post, read it out loud to yourself. Or if you are extra brave, read it out loud to someone else. I guarantee you, very quickly you will notice phrases that don't sound like you, or phrases that are clumsy or difficult to read out loud. Rewrite those phrases so they can be read more naturally. 

The whole point of writing anything online is to invite connection. The more personable and genuine you can be, the greater chance you have of compelling your customers or users to engage with you.

In the time it took me to write this post, there are now an additional 90,000 blog posts in the world. Thanks for reading this one!