Let’s Make Content Easy-to-Read Again
Yup, I’m back! I spent my digital detox rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. For almost three weeks, I lifted heavy gear bags up steep, sandy hills, hung on through the cold, wet rapids, and found sand everywhere.
It. Was. So. Peaceful.
And then, I came home.
Hitting reality full-speed was hard. Sure, re-entry is always…challenging. But, I never noticed how much energy-sucking crap filled my day-to-day life until I had digitally detoxed for three weeks.
- Spending 10+ minutes every day deleting newsletters I never read.
- Saying, “Yes” to people asking, “Could you help with this one thing?” — even when I don’t have time.
- Responding to text dings, email notifications, or other “hey, look at me” distractions in the moment.
Ugh, right? I’m sure you can relate. You spend 10 minutes doing this, and another five doing that…
…and before you know it, you’ve lost an hour (or more) a day doing stuff that (to quote Bill Murray in the film Meatballs) “just doesn’t matter.”
But then, I got to thinking. Content marketing, as it stands today, forces people to wade through a lot of energy-sucking crap to get the gems they want.
- We write extra copy so we can shove keyphrases in somewhere, and we hide the “meat” of the post towards the bottom. (I’m looking at you, recipe sites.)
- We focus on long-form guides that are 2,000 words (or more) because “that’s what Google wants.”
- We worry about content that’s short (say, 500 words) and wonder if it’s “too thin.” (As a reality check, 500 words used to be considered “too much” content back in the day.)
- We’re forced to write buzzword-filled content because our boss is convinced that “our audience needs to see this on the site.”
I’m not saying this stuff is bad — there are studies showing how longer content tends to get higher rankings and more links. Following what works is a good thing.
And, sometimes we need to add buzzwords to our content — or write in a slightly more academic style. That’s fine.
But, OMG, please let us write content that’s easy to read.
Plus, check out the latest voice search statistics…
According to a recent study by SEMrush, the average text length for a voice search answer was 41 words across all devices (for instance, Google Home or Alexa.)
Just 41 focused words written at a high-school comprehension level.
Of course, the answers are pulled from posts that are much longer than 41 words. In fact, 78 percent of voice search answers are culled from the top-three results — and those pages tend to have higher word counts.
Yet, Google can still find the right 2-3 easy-to-read sentences with the right answer.
Pretty cool, eh?
So, how do you dovetail what Google seems to reward (longer word counts) and still make it easy for folks to find the specific information they want?
This is where the page strategy comes in…
Here are some tips for Google AND your readers:
Tell me a story that engages my brain. Don’t drown me in jargon.
Conversational, easy-to-read content is always king. Yes, I know you want your brand to sound “smart” and “like a market leader.” However, many top-positioned, highly-technical sites are easy-to-read, engaging and approachable. Here’s a great post from Content Marketing Institute that discusses why storytelling is so important.
Use subheadlines as “cues” to explain what the following paragraph is about and to help your reader find the information she needs.
Yes, I know it’s tempting to write a sexy headline like, “Market Leading Excellence.” But, to your reader, this is just corporate-speak that says nothing.
I love this quote from Hubspot:
“Subheadlines have the power to reel the reader in. While the headline may grab the user’s attention, you need to do more than that in order for the user to stay. You want to compel the reader to look, to click, to sample, to scroll, or to do whatever it is you want them to do.”
Use lists, bullet points and summary paragraphs to immediately help the reader find the information she needs.
If your topic is about “how to boil an egg,” put that information front and center. You don’t need to write 500 words outlining the history of eggs and egg boiling. Please. Just…don’t.
Check your paragraph and sentence length.
Long paragraphs and run-on sentences are annoying to read on a computer — and even more annoying to read on a mobile device. Instead, write short, snappy sentences. Do it. Please. They’re easier to read.
Experiment with presenting your content in different formats.
For instance, you could create a 60-second explainer video that highlights your main points. Or, create an infographic for your visual, quick-scan folks. Think “easy.”
Not everyone will read your 10,000-word blog, no matter how much you put your heart and soul into it. But, they may check out your video or share your infographic.
Don’t just test your content — test your layouts, too.
I’ve seen conversion rates increase 30 percent because the new layout better highlighted the important benefits. If you keep losing folks and you can’t figure out why, the layout (not the content) could be the culprit.
What’s the big takeaway?
Know what your readers are looking for and make that information simple to find. Test your layouts and see if you can improve your time on page and conversion rates. Write in a way that makes your reader hang on your every word — not wonder what the heck you’re trying to say.
In short, think “simple, short and to the point.”
Your readers will thank you!
What do you think?
Leave your comment below!
Those were some great tips. I have been trying to add more bullet points and easy to read headers. And you’re right about those recipe sites, I always just scroll down to the bottom.
Those were some great tips. I have been trying to add more bullet points and easy to read headers.
Thanks, I have always struggled writing, as on paper it never seems to flow. I’m always trying to second guess what I think it should be technically. Now I read out aloud what I have written, and quickly see what doesn’t sound right. I think when I write, I add far more words than if I said the same thing. I usually just ditch these and try again. I think if sounds OK as a conversation its getting there.
Reading your content out loud is AMAZING, isn’t it? Something can look perfect on paper — but then, when you hear it being read out loud, you know it’s not quite right. Keep on, keeping on, Steve. Sounds like you’re on the right track!