To Get Your Content Read…Give Your Readers a Tour

August 15, 2013

You’re a good writer and you really know your subject. The information you have is right on target. You’ve done quality research and can back up everything you say. Your ideas are important, timely and useful. And it could potentially change people’s lives.

But, there’s a catch. They have to read it first.

So, persuading them to read it is your next job. This means that you may need to go back to the original copy and modify it. You need to make the article reader-friendly. It’s more work; but, it might be necessary.

And writing for the web demands it.

You already know the importance of a good, attention-grabbing headline. About 80 out of 100 people will pause to look if they read a compelling headline. However, only 20 percent will continue reading the article. And a lot of them will never finish reading it if it’s not reader-friendly.

You must guide your reader into reading your article. In fact, it’s a lot like taking a road trip. You’re the tour guide and you need to provide some visual clues that move your reader further into the piece. You need:

  • An easy-to-read roadmap
  • Informative billboards and signposts
  • And the all-important rest stops

That last one tripped me up for years. I’ll explain more in a minute, but I can tell you that it was the hardest skill for me to learn and use. Not because it’s hard to do, but because it flew in the face of everything I had learned about “proper” writing.

But, let’s get started with the roadmap first.

Headings and subheads – a road map of the journey

Try this. Open up your latest document on your computer. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Ready? Now, stand up and start moving away from it until you can only read the headings and subheads.

Can you tell, just with the headings and subheads, what the article is about? If not, you’re missing the roadmap. When people search for information on the Internet, that’s exactly how they do it. It’s called scanning.

The headline gets their attention. They may read the first paragraph, but they will immediately scan the headings. If headings don’t outline the article, they will probably move on.

That’s why it’s important to spend some time on the subheads. Give your reader a quick, scannable roadmap of your article content and they’re more likely to read on. The headlines and subheads say, “Here’s where we’re going and these are the stops along the way.”

But to increase your readership, here’s another strategy you should use.

Bulleted and numbered lists – short, informative signposts

I live in the United States and you can’t go down the highway for very long without seeing a billboard or signpost. And while most of the billboards are huge, they really don’t contain much text. Why? When you’re whizzing down the road at 60+ miles per hour, you don’t have much time to read! So the billboard has just enough text to tell me what the business wants me to know:

“Best food around – 5 miles ahead. Take exit #54.”

Numbered and bulleted lists are what many folks read next, right after the headings. They’re useful for handing out quick information in easily digested chunks. With bulleted lists:

  • You can highlight important ideas quickly.
  • You can introduce a series of topics or sub-topics.
  • However, you don’t want to make the entries too long in a bulleted or numbered list because it would defeat the purpose of using the list in the first place, which is to present the information as quickly and concisely as possible, without the use of long, complex phrases and sentences which would be better written as paragraphs with shorter sentences.
  • Like that last one . . . whew!

Along with properly constructed lists, some text decoration, like bolding and italicizing can draw attention to important points as well. Just be careful not to overdo them. If everything is stressed, then nothing is, right?

As promised, I will now reveal the writing technique that caused me the most grief. And it’s one that will probably give my old writing teacher a chill!

White space and fragments – rest stops for weary eyes

Starting in grade school, I was taught that paragraphs should contain four to six sentences, sometimes more, using complete sentences with subjects, verbs and all of the other grammatical trappings necessary. Guess what?

I found out that writing content for the web has different rules. Short sentence are cool and you can use short paragraphs as well.

Some paragraphs are just one sentence long.

Or shorter!

Writing content for the web is different because people read it differently. You need to use more white space to give them a break. Large chunks of text are harder to read on the computer monitor, tablet or smartphone screen.

Here’s an example, using the oft-quoted passage, Lorem Ipsum:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy nibh euismod tincidunt ut laoreet dolore magna aliquam erat volutpat. Ut wisi enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exerci tation ullamcorper suscipit lobortis nisl ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis autem vel eum iriure dolor in hendrerit in vulputate velit esse molestie consequat, vel illum dolore eu feugiat nulla facilisis at vero eros et accumsan et iusto odio dignissim qui blandit praesent luptatum zzril delenit augue duis dolore te feugait nulla facilisi.

Not only did it crash my spellchecker, but it looks extremely difficult to read. While I still don’t know what it says, this looks easier:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy nibh euismod tincidunt ut laoreet dolore magna aliquam erat volutpat.

Ut wisi enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exerci tation ullamcorper suscipit lobortis nisl ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat.

Duis autem vel eum iriure dolor in hendrerit in vulputate velit esse molestie consequat, vel illum dolore eu feugiat nulla facilisis at vero eros et accumsan et iusto odio dignissim qui blandit praesent luptatum zzril delenit augue duis dolore te feugait nulla facilisi.

In fact, I may just dig out my old Latin dictionary and give it a whirl. White space works wonders.

The Tour is Over – But YOUR Journey Begins Now

I want to close with this somewhat radical statement: Write for your readers, not the search engines. OK, you still have to do some SEO; but it’s not your first priority. It’s your readers that are, well, reading your content. So, write your content for them first; make it readable, thus shareable.

The search engines are catching on to that as well.

It’s your readers that will ultimately share your article with the right people. So make sure they can read it easily. That goes hand-in-hand with writing compelling content. If you do, they’ll bring others to your road trip.

Here’s to success in all your writing,

Steve

About the Author

Steve Maurer, Maurer Copywriting is a freelance copy and content writer in Fayetteville, Arkansas. His tagline at Maurer Copywriting , Professional Freelance Business Writing – Plain and Simple, explains both his target audience and his writing philosophy. You can meet him on LinkedIn or call him at 479-304-1086.

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