Elevate your B2B content: five proven tips for keeping people reading and engaged
At Uberflip, we've got a lot to say about building engaging content experiences for your audiences, buyers, and customers.
Instead of creating content for content's sake, we'll always tell you to step off the hamster wheel and instead focus on your content’s environment, ensuring what you serve up is relevant and personalized. This is more true today than ever before, especially given how often we're challenged to prove the ROI of our content activities.
The underlying assumption, however, is that you've got content worth sharing in the first place. A content experience is only as strong as the content it serves up, after all. If you building an incredible content machine that serves up the B2B equivalent of boiled celery, it just isn't going connect with your target audiences.
Here, then, are five quick ways you can deliver more readable—and more binge-able—content for better engagement.
Five quick tips for more readable content
1. Conquer unnecessary jargon.
Using jargon can be a habit that's hard to break.
Sometimes B2B marketers think big words and fancy terminology will make their product or service look more sophisticated. They forget that just because we may write for a highly technical audience, doesn't mean these people have unlimited patience to parse difficult text.
More commonly, marketers succumb to the curse of knowledge. They assume their audience knows everything that they do. This habit extends not only to industry terms, in fact, but organizational and product jargon too. (I once worked for a team who did a whole lot of solutioning, for instance, a word I'm told comes from design thinking but just meant “solve” when we said it. And we said it a lot.)
Though it's possible to go too far in simplifying, there's plenty of evidence that suggests paying attention to readability and reducing jargon can improve engagement and conversion rates.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Consider your audience and context. If you’re producing educational content that addresses foundational questions, then you should ensure your language is equally basic. But remember, this isn't just a matter of beginners versus veterans: even very skilled professionals may not have the same language skills that you do, especially if their role doesn't call for it.
- Define tough terms in the moment. A brief definition in parenthesis can help, especially for acronyms and abbreviations. Unless the acronym is most often used in place of the full name (like HTML or ATM), use the full name the first time, with the acronym in brackets. Again, it's worth applying the lens of the curse of knowledge. Don't assume every reader will realize that by ABM you mean "account-based marketing" and not "automatic banking machine."
- Avoid big words when small ones will do. Unless you’ve got a really good reason, choose the shorter, simpler word over a more complex one. Sure, “leverage” has a specific, technical meaning. (It means “to use something in such a way that a small amount has a big result.”) But most marketers use “leverage” when they could just say “use.” Simplifying the surrounding vocabulary means that if you do need to introduce jargon, it'll still be more digestible.
Freemium writing tools (like Grammarly and Hemingway) often have reading difficulty indicators. Pop everything you publish into it one of these and see where you’re hitting. Most companies benefit from going no higher than a 10th-grade reading level.
Grammarly displays a readability score based on grade level.
Better yet, try testing these tools with some copy or content from brands you admire. You'd be surprised by how many brilliant B2B companies routinely communicate big ideas using very basic language. (Now that's leveraging!)
The inevitable exception. Some industry jargon is necessary, especially in technical fields, and sometimes being too simple can give the impression that you don’t know what you’re talking about. If you feel you need to use a difficult term, be sure to accompany them with sentences that are simple and straightforward.
2. Keep your sentences short and sweet.
Confession time: I'm addicted to stretching sentences.
I love those long, sinewy ones that curl up into themselves, clause after clause winding, splitting, and branching out like a syntactical spiderweb to enthrall and entrap the unwary reader. I delight in making Grammarly groan.
But the hard truth is that B2B marketers benefit from keeping sentences on the shorter side, especially at the bottom of the funnel where attention is everything.
Even on a blog, people don’t read the same way they parse a book or a magazine. Take a look at your time-on-page metrics. Are they alarmingly short? It’s not you, friend. It’s the internet.
Here are a few things you can do right now to shorten up:
- Take a one-thought, one-sentence approach. Avoid stringing together multiple thoughts in the same sentence. Put the most important thing first—in copywriting, for instance, that’s often the benefit to the reader or the action you want them to take.
- Use active voice. Active voice isn't really about being "active," but it does do three things: it brings the doer in your sentence into a point of prominence, it cuts down on repetition of “is” or “was”, and it generally leads to leaner, clearer sentences. Here's an example of passive versus active voice:
- Avoid empty phrases and hedging language.
There is a longstanding truth thata lot of the words we use add very little to our meaning. And sometimes, perhaps, maybewe add hedging words to signal our uncertainty. Both habits lead to flabby sentences. So cut ‘em. Then rearrange for maximum punch.
The inevitable exception. A strong writer can and should use a long sentence here and there to add impact and variation. Even Ernest Hemingway—so famous for brevity they named the app after him—once wrote a sentence that’s 400+ words, if only to mock his critics.
3. Use concrete examples to explain abstract ideas.
We throw around the word “fluffy” to describe bad content without stopping to consider what it really means. Fluffy is the opposite of concrete. It’s soft and pillowy without substance. (No wonder it puts us to sleep.)
So if you want to fight the fluff, the best way to do it is not to try to be 100% original. Instead, use concrete examples of what you’re talking about to support and illustrate your claims.
Here are a few things you can do right now:
- Use real-world examples. Examples plucked for reality can be effective in grounding your most highfalutin subject matter. If you're a B2B visionary or strategic thinker, this can be especially effective. In some cases, they even provide you with an opportunity to show off what you’re doing or (better yet) feature your customers as the heroes.
- Use hypotheticals to provide extra clarity. Examples taken from real life can sometimes be less clear-cut than you need them to be, however. In these cases, a hypothetical example may feel a touch fluffier, but it can cut through complexity to get to your point while still acting as an illustration of what you're talking about.
- Translate abstractions into diagrams, illustrations, and screenshots. Frameworks are popular with businesses for a reason. If your words are letting you down, a diagram can go a long way in illustrating your point. Even a simple sketch on the back of a napkin can do tremendous things for your ideas.
The inevitable exception. Actually, there’s no exception here. Even if you’re deploying a rapid-fire SEO strategy, taking the extra step to provide examples doesn’t take much lift and will improve the likelihood of generating natural backlinks, subscribers—whatever you’re into. Get in the habit of following up a “best practice” or “quick tip” with a sentence that begins, “For example…”
4. Highlight big ideas and then repeat them.
It’s not unusual to encounter a blog post, an ebook, or even an email that serves up walls of undifferentiated text. And like any wall, it’ll block your readers. Even if they read it, people won’t know what’s important or not. Chances are they’ll absorb nothing of value.
You should take steps to draw attention to the most significant bits of your content.
Bold them. Italicize them. Use a heading structure, dividing lines, and block quotes to help them stand out. Then repeat yourself a few times so people can absorb them.
A few other small things you can do to make your most important points stand out:
- Repeat your main points (with intention). A lot of web content is repetitious for all the wrong reasons—an overzealous keyword strategy or an overworked content creator relying too much on AI are the main culprits here. That’s not a good thing. The one time you definitely should be repeating yourself is when you want somebody to remember something or take a specific action after reading. In those cases, go ahead and repeat yourself.
- Create a table of contents. (Like the one at the top of this blog post.) This can be useful for very long content—letting visitors jump to what appeals most—but it’s also a sneaky way of repeating your main headings.
- Summarize your main points. Sometimes this can be done as a TLDR; at the top of the page, or sometimes it can be in a concluding paragraph. Not everyone will read it, but those who do will hear your main points one more time. This is obviously also a great place to restate your call to action.
Before you hit publish, ask yourself the following question: a week from now, what do you want your reader to remember? Now, look at what you’ve just written. Are you doing enough repeating to ensure they do?
The inevitable exception. As college kids learn when cramming for midterms, if you highlight everything in the textbook, then nothing is highlighted. Too many elements on a web page or blog post can also create a busy appearance, so be judicious and consistent in how you do it.
5. Write in a lively, conversational way.
Good writing should never feel generic.
It should express your brand’s personality. Much the same way you can generally recognize people just by the sound of their voice, strong B2B content should aspire to be immediately recognizable.
Consumer-facing brands know how to do this exceptionally well. The Wendy’s Twitter account doesn’t have to sling Baconators to be recognizable, for instance. Its snarky voice lives rent-free in my brain.
A lot of work goes into crafting a really strong voice and tone for a brand like Wendy's—and, frankly, this type of personality isn't a great fit for B2B—but there are a few quick ways to sound more conversational and distinctive in all cases:
- Don't be afraid to use contractions, conversational language, and even slang (when appropriate). Look, I’m not saying you should suddenly sound like a ninja turtle, dude. But if your company has the stomach for it, a degree of informality will liven up your writing and pull your brand out of the 1950s.
- Use personal pronouns for your content. Often personalization gets reduced to the idea of inserting somebody's name or company into the subject line of an email. But framing yourself as an “I” or a “we” talking to a “you” goes a long way in establishing a stronger personal connection. Just don’t fall into the trap of being all about yourself.
- Ask questions. Is it just me, or can asking questions be a great way of connecting with your reader? Even if the answer is something you wish it wasn’t—“Yes, Colin. It is just you.”—the question has successfully started a dialogue. Questions are a great way to encourage engagement and get people thinking.
The inevitable exception. There’ll be times when you need to tone it down based on your audience and context. If you’re delivering really bad news, for instance, a touch of humanity is still always welcome but keep the witticisms to a minimum.
Write more, better(er)
At Uberflip, we’ve got a lot to say about content experiences. (Our co-founder literally wrote the book on it.)
While content experience is about serving up the right content to the right people at the right time, however, you also need to ensure you're making stuff they'll actually want to engage with in the first place. Remember, you should be aspiring to create Netflix or Spotify—not CSPAN or the home shopping network. (Unless your audience is really into that sort of thing. No judgment.)
I hope these writing tips help get you there.