How to Make Your Content Easier to Read
Easy to read content has a kind of current to it, as though it were a lazy river, swiftly ferrying browsers from one idea to the next. Getting the current’s speed just right isn’t easy, however, readers don’t want to be pummeled with information, nor do they want to have to awkwardly paddle their way through sluggish paragraphs.
You might feel like Casanova of web content, but your readers are less enamored than you may think. It’s likely that at the moment your writing pops before your reader’s eyes, she is either procrastinating some other task or in a hurry to extract your key concepts and be done with you. Either way, she won’t stick around long.
Think of web content as the ultimate lightning round of speed dating: you have to subtly charm and meaningfully engage a relative stranger in the same it takes you lace up a tennis shoe.
Easy? No. Possible? Absolutely.
5 Secrets to Reader-Friendly Web Content
1. Don’t Be an Eyesore
Yes, you have a lot to say, but if you construct a 26-story paragraph, no reader wants to tackle it– no matter how catchy your headline.
Purposefully using short, snappy paragraphs is a copywriter’s smoke & mirrors technique. It allows you to deliver 1,000-word posts in small bites, keeping your reader satisfied without feeling like you just force-fed her a 10-course meal. Short paragraphs (2-5 sentences) are also unintimidating, easy on the eyes, and have a tendency to encourage a quick reading pace.
Don’t believe me? Look at the image below and tell me: which article would you prefer to read?
This rule requires you to forget what you learned in grade school about paragraph construction, introductory sentences and concluding summaries. Quite frankly, good web copy won’t earn you an A+ in language arts, it will help you to keep up with the scroll-happy, value-hungry readers who don’t have time to dink around.
2. Take the Pyramid Approach
The inverted-pyramid style of writing is a journalism cornerstone. It involves keeping the most important information at the top of the page/ article, and then trickling down to the more insignificant details. Not sure what this looks like? Pick up your daily newspaper. Nearly every reporter uses this technique because readers are likely not to make the jump from the front page to page A6, where the rest of the story continues. So, you’ve got to give the meat of the story to people in the first few paragraphs before their wandering attention skips over to something else.
These are fickle, frantic passersby and you’ve got a very limited amount of time to give them good stuff. This tactic is also sometimes referred to as front-loading the important information. It involves keeping your best stuff – the most critical, clever, engaging tidbits – right on top where readers can reach it quickly.
Josh Schwartz, a data scientist from Chartbeat, analyzed how people scroll through articles online and found that most people only scroll through approximately 60% of article content. Even more disturbing, 10% of people that click and land on an article page, never even scroll at all before they click away from the page.
3. Create Lots of Entry Points
Research shows that it’s far more accurate to say that people scan webpages rather than read them. In fact, the Nielsen Norman Group found that only 16% of web users read a web page word-for-word. If that makes you feel like your Pulitzer Prize worthy writing is being underappreciated, I feel your pain.
But rather than cower in defeat, you simply need a strategy to attract the attention of speed readers & scanners. That strategy involves incorporating lots of entry points. Entry points are visual variations within a text, which are designed to organize information and draw readers’ eyes to the content.
Entry points include:
– Highlighted keywords
– Meaningful subheadings that attempt to signal/ summarize subject matter
– Pull-out quotes that emphasize key concepts
– Numbered or bulleted lists
– Short paragraphs that express only one aspect of an idea
Entry points attract attention and deliver key concepts even though the reader is only skimming the surface.
Quick tip: Don’t underline anything that’s not a clickable link. In the digital space, underlined text signifies a link. If you want to emphasize a word or phrase, make it bold.
Use of multimedia is also a great entry point into your online web copy and text. Consider incorporating photographs, infographics, slideshows, memes, and videos where appropriate. Just be sure there is a clear transition from your text to the piece of media and back again, you want readers to make a seamless transition – not feel like you cut and pasted content while blindfolded.
4. Write it Down, then Speak UP.
Most people struggle to write compelling web copy because they mistakenly believe they have to sound like a super expert, slick marketer, or charismatic galactic guru. Trying to fit your writing into fictional personas will have exactly the opposite effect – you will sound like an oaf. And probably an unpleasant kind of oaf that eats alone at busy restaurants. It’s not a good thing.
Forget contorting your voice into what you think “you have to sound like.” Simply use your natural, conversational language and write as though you were sitting beside an imaginary friend who is genuinely curious about what you have to say.
Avoid “marketese,” boastful text, clichés, and worn out sales phrases like “hot new product,” “life-changing opportunity,” etc.
A good litmus test to determine whether your text is conversational is to read what you’ve written aloud. Chances are you’ll stumble over a few sentences or find that a certain word choice feels out of tune. Mark those passages and see what you can change to achieve a more natural, personable tone.
5. Reduce Your Reading Level
Readability relates directly to how easily your writing can be understood, which is directly related to the words you choose to get the job done. Forget about high-scoring scrabble words and simply use the vocabulary your users (clients) use. Write directly to your audience at their level of familiarity with the subject matter. Ask yourself: how do I know that my audience knows the same words I do? What assumptions am I making?
This one is probably the rule that is most challenging, particularly for wordsmiths who swoon over succulent vernacular. However, it’s best to wax poetic in private – not on your website. Use this tool to help you calculate the readability of your posts and articles. Just add the URL you want to evaluate and click on “Calculate Readability.”
What do you find makes for easy-reading content online? And what one tip for how to make your content easier to read are you going to apply to your writing the next time you sit down to compose copy?
Talk to me in the comments section below!