Content marketing focuses mainly on driving traffic to your site and eventually leading people down the funnel to a sale. But you can’t just write anything and publish it; your work must be effortlessly readable, engaging and concise. As a beginner, this may seem like a tall order. But, with practice and experience, it will become second nature to you.
The purpose of your content (for ease we’ll focus on blog posts in this article) is to capture readers’ curiosity and keep their attention until the very end. But, keeping this in mind, you also must write with clarity and, by gosh, you better spell words correctly!
What I’m getting at is called readability, or “the quality of being easy and pleasant to read.”
The Statistics We Wish Were Lies
The statistics about online reading aren’t very encouraging. About 91% of content gets no traffic from Google, most users stay on your website for less than 15 seconds, and only 20% of readers finish articles. Also, most readers spend their time on the first screen without even scrolling! It’s enough to make you drop kick your laptop out the window.
And sorry to bring you down more, but even if your content falls into the 30-40% of material on the web that’s actually read, a visitor will probably just glance at the article or scan the subheaders.
What’s a writer to do?
As I mentioned before, make your content more readable. Follow these five guidelines and I’ll head you in the right direction. No tossing of laptops on my watch!
Scannable Text for Your Speed Readers
For most people, reading on the internet is different from reading a physical book. Most online readers scan web pages with their attention focusing on only a few words and sentences.
There’s no advantage to writing dense, high-level articles for your average person because they just won’t read them thoroughly. Even entrepreneurs or companies with complex products and/or operations need to lighten their content and focus on engaging potential customers.
Since online visitors aren’t likely to change their method of reading, you may need to alter the way you present your material. Focus on allowing your audience to consume information in a quick and easy way.
To accommodate online readers, writers commonly use Scannable Text. This method makes it easier for people to jump around your article and still grasp the basics. By following several guidelines, you can increase the number of visitors that stay engaged until the end of your blog post.
- Subheadings: write clearly and with relevance, the use of a keyword is a plus.
- Paragraphs: keep them short, 2-3 sentences long, and very focused.
- Sentences: make them on the shorter side; easy to understand.
- Bullet lists: add in for quick and easy scanning, where applicable.
- Keywords: highlight them or anchor them with relevant, quality information.
Article Structure – The Road Best Taken
This structure works well for online readers. You start your blog post with the conclusion! Write the most important information first, the least important, last. The structure can be visualized as an upside-down pyramid because you load the critical information on top and the less important information flows down funnel-wise.
You gain several benefits from this journalistic style of writing:
- Readers who quickly leave the page still retain the bulk of the information.
- Readers can decide right away if the article is relevant to them.
- The beginning of your article is more likely to contain your keywords (good for SEO).
So, focus on the first 2-3 paragraphs of your blog post or article. Give them clarity and hook those visitors, so they want more of your readable goodness!
Design Your Article Space
As a writer, you focus heavily on the words and the structure of your articles. But for online writers in particular, another subject should also concern you: the effect web design can have on readability.
Visitors will only continue reading what is pleasing to their eyes. If anything seems jarring or misplaced, they will click away from your site.
The good news is that even if you’re not a graphics aficionado, most of these tactics can be easily accomplished. And, if you work with a designer, discuss with them the need for readability on your website.
Here are some important design tips:
- Text Spacing – Extra space between the lines of your text make it easier for readers to recognize letters quickly, and therefore the words and concepts. Don’t let the tops or bottoms of your letters blend into the lines above and below.
- Interactive Design – These elements can be very popular with readers, but tread carefully because some design tricks are annoying. Mini-apps (like calculators), polls, and GIFs are just a few elements that you can add to your site. (Please go easy on the GIFs though because they drive me insane!)
- White Space – By using more space between the characters and increasing your margins, it enhances your article’s readability. You or your designer can also use white space to draw attention to specific elements on your website.
- Contrast – You can design your page with columns, but keep them consistent. Use brighter images, darker text or highlighted areas to break up the page and direct the reader’s eye. Use colors that are easily distinguishable from others, so there is no blending effect. Magenta writing on a pink background could possibly drive a reader insane.
- Typefaces – Fonts can add excitement and personality to your website, but be sure not to overuse them. The general thought is to include no more than three typefaces in an article, but mainly focus on using two – one for the body text and one for the headers. Personally, I like to see a sans-serif font for headlines and a serif font for the body. But you should experiment until you find a combination you find pleasing.
- Alignment – On a computer screen, as with other reading materials, left-aligned text is the easiest to read. Justified text (words are hyphenated or stretched to create lines of all equal lengths) is not optimized for readability on the web, but quotes and callouts can be justified to provide contrast with the main text.
- Text Blocks – For increased readability, you should design your web page with shorter and narrower text blocks. Long paragraphs are tougher to read and don’t allow for extra white space.
Formatting Your Masterpiece
Another way scare off readers is with poor formatting. You may think if your writing is phenomenal and your grammar is impeccable, visitors will read your blog post with abandon. However, formatting that is erratic or inconsistent can be an article-killer. And killing just isn’t right.
Consider these tips in your text:
- Inconsistent Flow: As you read through an article, it should flow comfortably from paragraph to paragraph. As you format your piece, try to systemize your approach. It’s not essential that your writing follows an overly strict format. The point is to make sure the writing flows in a consistent manner, so it doesn’t disturb the reader.
- Bucket Brigades: Use words or short phrases to create curiosity and keep your reader on the page. You can add these snappy sentences anywhere you feel like there’s a lull in your writing. According to Brian Dean, a well-known SEO expert, these bucket brigades are some of the classics used in copywriting:
“Here’s the deal:”
“What’s the bottom line?”
“You might be wondering:”
“This is crazy:”
- Images and Photos: A superb way to keep readers on your page is to include visual elements. Stock photos work well but don’t forget to use screenshots, charts, diagrams, etc. As long as you don’t flood the screen, breaking up your text with such details can keep reader interest high.
- Uppercase Type: Words that appear in uppercase are useful for headers and titles, but don’t use them inside your text unless absolutely necessary. Any style of font that is disorienting slows your reader down and can frustrate them. And please try to stay away from fancy scripts, word art or nouveau lettering in the body text of your article – no one will have the patience to solve the Mystery of the Unreadable Font!
- Text Wraps: Whenever your text is forced into short lines (like when you insert a photo into a document), it can be disconcerting for your reader. The eye scans sentences in a rhythmic, left-to-right flow. When shortened text interrupts this flow, it forces the reader to adjust and then readjust their rhythm.
This Baby’s Got Style!
Methods of writing are very different and individualized. It’s hard to say which is the correct or most productive style of writing.
Here’s a list of a few guidelines to consider when writing your online post or article:
- Conversational – Online writing, especially blog posts, works best if it sounds casual. Just imagine you are speaking to a friend, and write that way. The reader should feel like you are having a conversation with them.
- Grammar – This doesn’t necessarily fall under style, but I didn’t want to leave it out of the article. Bad or incorrect grammar not only leads to unhappy readers, but it can also be confusing, affecting a person’s comprehension and speed.
- Short Sentences – In general, readers will understand short sentences much easier than long sentences in an article. A good rule of thumb is 14 to 15 words because, at this length, readers will understand about 90% of what they read. The ideal length of a sentence is about eight words with readers comprehending almost 100% of what they read. Confession: I can be queen of the run-on sentence so I really have to focus on this one.
Quotes add evidence and value to your writing. They can introduce a different voice to your article and sometimes even a different opinion. Click To Tweet
- Quotes – Add evidence and value to your writing with quotes. Quotations introduce a different voice to your article and sometimes even a different opinion. They also break up the reading, especially when you use block quotes. Block quotes are usually set in the middle of the page and use larger type, different font color or italics for extra interest. They act similarly to little, indented paragraphs.
- Emphasis – Overall, emphasis should be used sparingly in your writing; otherwise, it will lose its effect. Too much use of accentuation can create confusion and slow down the reader. However, used effectively, it can add powerful styling to your work. There are several ways of indicating emphasis, including italics, bold lettering, colored text or background, highlighting, and underlining.
- Jargon/Slang – Stay away from using jargon and slang unless entirely convinced your audience will appreciate and understand it. You can quickly lose readers when you start adding words or acronyms that are unfamiliar to them.
- Sales Speak– When writing copy leading up to a sale, don’t write like you’re trying to sell something. Lean towards telling a good story or solving a pain or problem first; this will keep your readers hooked and will prepare them for a sale later. Always, always provide value to a potential customer. When the time is right for the sales pitch, then you can be more direct.
Quite a few resources are available to help you with grammar, formatting, and stylizing your writing. I listed a sampling of them here for you, including a couple of my favorites:
Ginger: Software that checks spelling and grammar. It also translates, reads to you, and more. (I don’t have this software, but it looks like fun!)
Grammarly: Software and browser extension that corrects spelling and grammar.
Hemingway: Software that checks the readability of your writing and provides suggestions to improve your text (this is a favorite of mine!).
Readability Test Tool: An online app that conducts a combination of 6 readability tests on your writing. You can directly input your article or submit the URL for your page (another favorite!).
Readable: Software that quantifies the accessibility of your writing, measures and improves readability of your website, and more.
Reverso: Free online spelling and grammar checker.
And the Wrap-Up
I hope this article helped shed some light on readability!
Go ahead and download the (ungated) resource list I created for you. It includes the above-mentioned software and apps in more detail and throws in a few others as a bonus. I added some offline resources too.
My final advice (I know you’re breathing a sigh of relief right now) would be to try two or three of the software programs I listed and find which ones feel comfortable and help you out the most. Right now, my favorites are Grammarly and Hemingway. Let me know which one you think is the best or if I missed any!
P.S. I just remembered another way to test your article’s readability. Read it aloud and see if it flows naturally and makes sense. Or, you can use software that reads text aloud for you. You can find this kind of software online or in many mobile applications. In fact, Microsoft Word even has a Read Aloud option under the tab “Review,” but it’s kind of like listening to a robot read the dictionary…