Readers not paying attention to what you say? Maybe it’s the way you’re saying it.
We all know that well-written content is necessary for audience engagement.
What fewer of us know is that the way you write is just as important as what you write.
The format of our written material plays a big part in whether we’ll give it a shot. There’s plenty of good marketing information out there in textbooks and manuals, but who has the time to sit down and leaf through a thousand-page tome? We don’t, and we bet that you don’t either.
This is where the beauty of online writing is revealed. Writers can find information, juxtapose the data with the points they’re trying to make, and wrap everything up neatly in a simple and easy-to-digest format.
That easy-to-digest part is key. Readers don’t want to dig into a novel when they go online; according to the data, only 16 percent of readers actually read word-by-word. When it comes to web writing as part of your content strategy, scannability is the name of the game. And with that goal fresh in our minds, let’s review a few strategies to help make your content a little more scannable and a little easier to read.
Create Knockout Subheadings
We don’t need to delve into the data about how important headlines are or how only two out of ten readers will bother to read past the headline. We all know headlines are important, and subheadings follow the same rules.
Make your subheadings direct and clear for any readers scanning your text. Your goal is to provide an at-a-glance perspective of your article’s contents with the text itself supporting your overarching point. Getting cute with clever subheadings can be fun, but make sure you know who you’re writing for. If your readers are busy and looking for education rather than entertainment, you’ll be better off keeping your content strategy direct.
Get to the Point
You’ve caught their eye with your headline; now it’s time to make sure they stay on the page.
Keeping readers interested means valuing their time and holding off on the long-winded rants. Make your points as clear and concise as possible. We’ve already established that readers won’t stick around for long—not even long enough to scan everything on the page. If you’re hoping to engage them, you can’t afford to lose them out of the gate with fluff-filled material.
Heat map of eye movements displaying the “F” pattern
Write for the “F” Pattern
Our reading behaviors are surprisingly consistent, even on the internet. Research has found that when reading online, our eyes typically follow an “F” shape:
- Readers begin with a horizontal movement across the top of the page, usually scanning for headlines and other top-of-the-page elements. This is the top bar of our “F” movement.
- The next movement is another horizontal motion slightly lower on the page, usually including the first few subheadings or paragraphs. This is the middle bar of the “F” movement.
- The last motion is a downward movement that tracks along the left side of the page. This is the stem of the “F” shape and is where readers will scan for eye-catching page elements.
Do your best to accommodate this pattern and place your most valuable page elements along this “F” track. Pack your initial headlines and subheadings with as much important content as you can, and include plenty of information-dense copy that readers scrolling down will notice.
Leverage White Space
Be honest with us here. Have you ever opened an unfamiliar book, blanched at its small and dense print, and immediately tossed it back on the shelf?
We’ve all been there. There’s no shame in it; dense blocks of text are intimidating to readers, no matter where they’re found. Standardized text books and novels can’t get around this issue, but online writing is more flexible.
Be liberal with that enter key when crafting your text. True, too many page breaks can make a piece choppy and unreadable, but most readers who scan for highlights appreciate the buffer that white space adds.
Lists and Bullets
As readers, our eyes are naturally drawn to chunks of text that are offset from the rest of the page copy. Bulleted lists are a great example of this. Bulleted lists have several advantages over normal text when writing for the web:
- Speed: Bullet points let you dispense with the narrative and make your point quickly.
- Attention: Lists stand out and are ideal for grabbing readers’ attention, particularly for those scanning for key points.
- Concept Integration: We build associations in our minds through relationships. Bulleted lists help readers form connections and integrate multiple steps or parts of a concept into a complete thought. This is particularly effective when writing educational resources and materials that your users will need to recall.
Just as bullets can help your text stand out, highlighting tools such as boldface, italicizing, or underlining can have a similar effect. You can even use hyperlinks as a highlighting tool, giving your text the one-two punch of standing out on the page while being backed by an authoritative resource.
Be careful, though. Highlighting can easily lose its effect when overdone, and it’s a surefire way to annoy readers. Use highlighting sparingly.
More Scannable, More Readable Content
The bottom line? It doesn’t matter how great your content strategy is if your audience isn’t reading.
Business moves a little faster than it used to, and readers don’t have the attention spans that they once did. Writing on the web needs to be simple and clean to keep readers engaged. Use whatever formatting tools and tricks you need to accomplish this goal, including subheadings, white space, and highlighting. They want to read—make it easy for them.