As an online marketer, you know that most consumers find content useful. In fact, content is the awesome sauce of any marketing strategy (the infographic at the end of this post proves it-- I dare you to go see it).
But few if any of you will scroll through this article. Nothing against you, that's just the nature of online content. Great ideas, unfortunately, aren't quite enough; your writing technique matters. So here's rule number one for eminently readable content:
Put Your Big Idea Above the Fold
Journalists have been doing this forever and it will serve your marketing objectives well. Let readers grasp your brilliance at the start, then use your remaining space to support that Big Idea.
Even if your readers don't finish (most won't), they'll still remember a post that delivered a happy nugget-o-goodness in the first 200 words. They might even share it and comment, as this insightful post by Farhad Manjoo proves. Isn't that your objective, after all? Awareness and engagement.
For those who are more inclined to stick around, your Big Idea is likely the best hook you have to encourage scrolling past the fold. You aren't writing a thriller, so get the ideas out.
Write for Reading Speed
When you crack open a novel, a textbook or most any written literature, you'll notice that paragraphs are long, full and there's little or no break in the actual text. They're "dense."
Readers look at that kind of paragraph structure and vocabulary as somewhat daunting and time-consuming. The average internet user doesn't want to read that way-- at least not when looking at websites.
When reading slows down, it stops, and readers leave.
Blogs and websites have, in a sense, created their own writing standards, and unique methodologies for how to help readers see and process their words on screen.
We're talking about things like:
- Paragraph length
- Bullet points and call outs
- Focusing your purpose
- Information presentation
We all have our preferences about formatting choices, but to publish more effective posts, remember this:
White space rules.
White space helps the reader's eye find and keep it's place in text without re-reading, it improves scanning, reduces eye fatigue and helps the reader continue after distractions.
All of that amounts to more engagement and therefore, more scrolling down the screen.
Paragraphs are Bad
Ok, so they're not "bad" per se, but you've got to be careful with the length, and avoid combining more than one or two thoughts into each one. In fact, it's not a bad idea to stick with two or three sentences tops, before giving the reader a line break.
Here are a few qualities that your paragraphs should have:
Fewer than five sentences (two or three preferred)
Limited to one or two thoughts or concepts
Once your paragraphs start getting into the six or seven sentence range, you are going to have a harder time keeping your reader's attention. A lot of times, people will just skip over paragraphs that reach those lengths.
If you do have six or seven sentences to get on paper, try the following format:
One sentence -- introduce the concept.
Paragraph: Two to three sentences -- detailing the core idea and information.
One sentence -- Bring the idea to a close, or introduce the idea of the next paragraph.
Write like you're having a conversation, rather than delivering a lecture, and this style becomes easier to implement.
Use You Some Bullet Points
Using bullet points is a crucial aspect of your blog's structure, as long as you have information that lends itself to being listed.
Don't try and use bullet points just for the fun of it, but make sure that you don't present information in a paragraph form that could be easily understood in a listed form instead. For example, let's say you've got a blog about home improvement, and you're writing a post about good drywall for preventing mold, and you wanted to say:
If you're going to put drywall in a basement, you need to be careful about what kind you buy. Certain brands that aren't made to withstand higher levels of moisture can often cause problems with mold, mildew and water damage. When you go to buy drywall, look for the Mold-away, Super-Moisture-Resistant, Water Wicker Drywall or NeverMold brand names.
Now there's nothing wrong with this paragraph, but instead of housing all this information in the form of a sentence, see if this isn't more readable:
If you're going to put drywall in a basement you need to be careful about what kind you buy. Certain brands that aren't made to withstand higher levels of moisture can often result in the following:
When you go to buy drywall, try and target the following mold-resistant brand names:
- Water Wicker Drywall
Yes, those are made up drywall brand names (hopefully), but the point is all the same. Doesn't the second arrangement seem more informative instead of wordy? Use bullet points in these situations, and you'll find that your articles will not only be a lot more readable, but will overall just take on a better shape and a more organized feel.
You'll also notice that the example text above is indented and italicized-- simple ways to help the reader follow what's happening without relying solely on the words.
Your Purpose for Writing
In any area of writing, things like sentence structure, word choice and tone should adhere to the main goal of your writing. Typically, writing (in the world of blogging or otherwise) will seek to accomplish one (or more) of the following five things:
More often than not, a piece of writing will have multiple purposes. However, there is usually one primary purpose. For example, in fiction, authors depend most on description. A news report is informative. Website copy is often persuasive. An article about how to renew your passport is explanatory.
By recognizing the primary purpose of your particular post, you can avoid tangents and other distractions that don't improve the reader's experience. Help them absorb what you're trying to share. That's it. Get on with it.
Although it's normal to see anecdotes, opinion and over-generalizations in many posts, relying on these and other distractions doesn't do your reader any favors.
Always be visual. It's that easy. We call it content marketing, not word marketing.
Take every opportunity to translate a thought into something more visual than another boring sentence or paragraph. Text formatting counts! (see above)
I've included the infographic below, not just because it's cool to see how much content matters in marketing, but to help drive home the point that you publish content to engage clients and prospects. If no one ever read your concluding paragraph, that doesn't mean your content didn't do it's job.
You may be losing more readers than you should, but if you're engaging them well right at the start, the inevitable drop off down the page isn't such a big deal.
Of course, you can always bury big ol' easter eggs like this pretty graphic and make them come down to get it.
Mike Sobol is a Co-Founder of Guest Blog Genius, a guest blogging service for SEO professionals, and Content BLVD, a content marketing platform for busy bloggers and brands. Building businesses since 1999, Mike's passion is to create effective new services to fulfill unmet needs in a variety of niche markets, including internet marketing, content creation and SEO.