I know, I know, I should probably change this regular feature to Two "Content" Tips for Tuesdays. I may get back to adding in other tips at some point, but for now, content is such a meaty and worthwhile topic that I’m happy to continue to use the Two for Tuesdays platform to opine on it.
Today, I want to talk about digestibility.
There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle of what makes content successful, and one of those things is how easy you make it for your audience to read it. We’ve talked about things like writing in their language and not using legalese, but in this case, I’m referring directly towards how the content appears on the page (for our purposes here, we’re focused on written content, though it can be blogs, articles, or what have you).
This morning, I was reading (okay, skimming) the Content Marketing Institute’s "Who Killed the Content?" piece, and zeroed in on their section about making content clean and skimmable.
You may think "this doesn’t apply to me – I’m a lawyer, writing on important subjects that my clients really care about, and they will both want and need to read every word."
But. They really won’t – your clients are just as busy as everyone else (and just as busy as you are, actually). I see so many blog posts and articles in the legal industry that don’t embrace this concept, and it’s a huge missed opportunity (and one that’s easily fixed). Why does it matter?
According to Nielsen Norman Group, even seven years ago viewers only read around 28% of the content on a page. It’s fair to assume that percentage is considerably lower today."
28% of the content on a page. Think about that.
So if people are only reading 28% of what you’re writing, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to get at (and retain) the salient points as possible. Here are two tips for how to do that, thanks to the Content Marketing Institute.
Tip One: Use Compelling and Informative Subheads
The CMI says:
Subheads have a huge impact on the ability for readers and even search engines to understand what your content’s subject matter is about…Grab the most important takeaways and points from your content and make those your subheads."
In fact, we just did exactly that with "Tip One" above – I made it bold and a bit larger than the rest of the text. It informs the reader that it’s an important point, and catches their eye as they’re scanning through the blog post. That way, if they want to know more and actually read each word of this particular section, the subhead clearly indicates that to them.
If I hadn’t broken this up, or put the subhead in bold, the reader may gloss over it, and never register it as important information that they’d like to investigate further. It’s not that it isn’t relevant to them; it’s that it’s my job as the author to help guide them to the information I consider to be important, because I know my audience is made up of busy people.
Tip Two: Break up the text with space and images
If your content is text-based, an easy way to improve the digestibility of the piece is through line breaks or images. Space the content so that it does not overwhelm the reader."
Ding ding ding!
This is an important one. CMI focuses on images here, and yes, images are crucial (but I’ll get to those in a moment). But line breaks are the key for me – and one of the first pieces of feedback I got from the LexBlog network when I joined.
As students, we’re taught to write in longer form paragraphs, with a number of sentences. So this practice takes some discipline and training. You’ll sometimes find that you’ll have a paragraph of only one sentence.
And it will almost give you hives.
But when you look through the post, you’ll notice how much easier it is to scan through it, because the text is broken up. It’s more than just readability too, for me – if I open a post, and see that it’s full of LONG paragraphs, I won’t even bother to scan through it. It puts me off automatically, so that I don’t even give the post a chance (not to mention that it tells me right away that the author doesn’t understand blogging, and so probably is writing in industry-speak, and not my language as well).
Importantly, we’re not trying to dumb down the writing or the format here – it’s about making things visually enticing to readers, who are very busy and just scanning for the salient points.
Another thing to keep in mind here is the importance of mobile devices. Even short paragraphs appear long on a mobile device, so imagine how impossible a long paragraph looks.
In terms of images, I like to include one with every post I write, to offer a visual hook at the beginning. Depending on your subject matter, it can be useful and important to illustrate your points throughout the post with images.
We’re visual creatures, so even if you’re writing about a very high end subject, find something that communicates your point visually, and add it in the beginning. When you share the post socially, it’s another thing that will catch the eye of those you’re connected to, and motivate them to take a look at what you’ve written.
We want to be compelling in our writing in as many ways as we can – through brief, digestible paragraphs, through including images that catch the readers’ attention as they’re scanning their social feeds, or through our posts themselves, and through grabbing them with subheads that give them the most important things they need to know when scanning our posts.
Even if you’re the best writer in the industry, it’s unlikely that no more than a handful of people are reading what you’ve written word for word – not because you aren’t great, but simply because we’re all on information overload. Make yourself into that "signal" out of the noise that we’ve been talking about through a few small tweaks to your writing style.
What style tips do you take into account for content marketing that have served you well?