When you write your content are you writing for online readers? Are they getting the most out of what you write? Heartbreaking as it is we read differently on the web than we read print. If you want to keep your readers reading to the end of your post you need to make your text scannable.
This is part 3 in our series on writing blog posts that people will want to read to the end.
In part 1 we looked at opening paragraphs
In part 2 we looked at the power of sub-headings
In this, part 3 we will look at how you can write scannable content
In this, part 4 we’ll look at blog endings
Listen to find out how to write online content that will help you retain readers longer
What do you mean my readers don’t read every single word I write? I struggle every week to pour sentences onto a web page for them to read and they ‘scan’.
It’s sad but true. We consume content online differently to we read the printed word. When you think about it it makes sense. When we sit down to read a printed book, newspaper or magazine we assigning ourselves time to read it. We rarely allow ourselves that luxury online.
Studies have backed this up. Way back in 1997 Nielson conducted a study that showed that online readers liked to scan.
People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.
Why is this? Maybe it’s because there’s so much content. We want to ensure if we commit to reading something it’s the right something. Maybe it’s just the nature of the speedy lives we live online.
Whatever the reason we as writers need to accept that our hard written words are being scanned over.
After acceptance comes action. People are going to scan through our content no matter what we do so we need to write with that in mind.People are going to scan through our content no matter what so we need to write with that in mind.Click To Tweet
The inverted pyramid
Journalists are experts at grabbing our attention, getting us to read and keep reading. What’s their secret? One tactic they use is ‘The Inverted Pyramid’ structure.
They will start a story with the most important, attention-grabbing information and work their way down to the least important. This keeps readers engaged for as long as they need to be and ensures that they have a good understanding of the story.
When writing news stories the important info is the ‘Who, what, where, when, how’ followed by the supporting stories in order of significance.
When writing a blog post we can use this same tactic. Start with your conclusion and work back from that. I’ve inadvertently done that in this post. I started with my key idea and then ordered the tips according to complexity or importance.
When you sit down to write your next blog post and see if you can order your key points in the same way.
The pyramid structure isn’t just for blog posts. You can use the same technique for each paragraph. What’s the key information you will impart? Put it right up at the front and work down from that point.
It’s all about the tone
Whenever I can I like to read my posts out loud to myself before I publish. This way I can be sure I got the tone right. If I stumble over words or get out of breath I know I’ve got it wrong and go back to editing. If I find it hard to read out loud my readers probably will too.
There’s an exercise I’ve been trying with clients over the last few weeks. I ask them to come up with three words that describe how they would like to be perceived online. It’s a hard task to complete but if you nail it you’ll be able to assess your writing and know if it fits your online personality.
I chose the words ‘Quirky, Helpful, Expert’ to represent me. Knowing this makes it easier for me to write in a consistent way.
Say no to breeze blocks of text
There is nothing more intimidating to a reader than a ‘wall of text’. A huge, seemingly never-ending page packed to the gills with long paragraphs is as intimidating as a large brick wall we’d need to scale to get where we want to go to.
If we want our readers to find their way through our content we need to chip away at that wall, breaking up those breeze blocks of text.
Ban long paragraphs
This is a difficult one. We’re taught in school how to write properly and long paragraphs are part of that. But when we’re writing for the web we need to break them up.
look at your writing and see if there is an opportunity to break those long paragraphs into shorter, more digestible sections.
I’ve done it above. Traditionally those last two sentences should have been part of the same paragraph but on the web, they read better if I break them up.
One idea at a time
Don’t confuse your readers with too much information. Limit yourself to one idea per paragraph. It’s easy to get carried away and go off on a tangent but if you want to keep people reading you need break each idea into a paragraph with a subheading. That way you can guide yourself through the post when you write and your reader when they read.
Even if readers don’t read every word, highlighting important sections will help them scan through without missing key points.
Subheadings are the guide to your content, the signposts that lead readers through it but they don’t need to do this job alone. Highlight important sections of our posts using the ‘bold’ or ‘italic’ format to show your readers what they need to pay attention to.To add even more impact to your words of wisdom turn them into 'Click to tweets' (like this one)Click To Tweet
To add even more impact to your words of wisdom turn quotes from your article into ‘Click to tweet’ text (see above) or create images with text overlay to highlight them.
To assist your scanner and make your writing an easier read use bullet points and numbered lists. These are easy to consume and understand and are quicker to consume than a sentence.
Cut the babble and the padding
The more I blog the more I realise that the editing is almost more important than the writing.
- Overly long and complex sentences
- Passive voice
And there are loads more. Try these editing tools, they’ll help you cut the blabber and padding from your posts.
Like it or not readers will scan our posts. We need to accept it and write our online content with that in mind. Implement the techniques above and you could find that your readers are getting more from your content and reading all the way to the end.
Take an existing blog post and look at it from a scanners point of view. What highlights do they see? How quickly do they get the information they need?
If you only read the opening paragraph, subheadings, highlights and lists would you know what the substance of the post is? If the answer is no, get your editing pen out.
Next time you sit down to blog write with the scanners in mind. Let me know how you get on in the comments below.