Content Marketing

The essentials of writing readable content online

With an estimated 3 million new blog posts every day, there is no shortage of content with which to occupy our time. I am always trying new blogs and newsletters, and I find myself always going back to the same blogs for one simple reason: readability.

So what does it mean to be readable? For starters, consider that your readers’ time is limited and anything you produce should respect their time. Once you understand this, consider the following tips:

1. Headlines

The first part of being readable is getting your reader’s attention, which starts with the headline. Interestingly, while eight out of 10 people will read your headline, only two out of 10 will read the rest.

Your goal from the start is to get people to that first paragraph, so if they stop at the headline, the rest of your effort is wasted.

Your headline is like your personal appearance — it is the first impression people use to judge what is inside. For this reason, your headline should have some, if not all, of the following elements.

  • Descriptive: Your reader should gain a general understanding about the topic of your content.
  • Curiousity: While you are describing your content to your reader, you never want to give away too much. Provide the reader with just enough information to make them click through to the first paragraph.
  • Value: What reason do readers have for reading your content? In general, understand that value comes in two ways — making your reader happier or wealthier.
  • Uniqueness: Unusual headlines, like a lady in red in a sea of black suits, stands out. How can you frame your headline in a way that is unique and more interesting?
  • Urgency: Readers are more likely to read your content if it will no longer be relevant tomorrow.

Writing great headlines takes practice. The effort is worth it, as a well written headline can increase your views by as much as 500 percent.

2. Voice

Your style of writing has a big influence on your readability. Business blogs are typically very neutral, written in third person and dryer than a thesis paper.

When writing professional correspondences, this voice might be appropriate, but if you want to deliver more entertaining, interesting and engaging content, consider getting a little creative and don’t be afraid of inserting yourself into the conversation.

Another important consideration is your audience’s intellectuality. If you want to appeal to a broader audience, remember that people like to read recreationally two grades below their actual reading level, and the average newspaper is written at the 11th grade level. In other words, avoid your inner F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Finding your voice takes time and practice, and it helps greatly to find and follow regularly other writers you respect and enjoy reading.

3. Length

There are two camps when it comes to content length.

On the one hand, you have people such as me who enjoy short, quick bursts of information delivered in bullet points and hyperlinks. Because of the droves of information we receive daily, I digest and share shorter content that is relevant, timely, useful and easy to read. It is why articles on Entrepreneur are often in the 500- to 1,000-word range.

In the other camp, you have advocates for longer content, between 1,500 to 3,000 words. A study by Buzzsumo showed that content in this word range typically receives twice the number of shares than shorter pieces while generating more backlinks and increasing conversion rates.

Conclusion? Find balance. Creating long and extensive content on a regular basis can be challenging, and many of your readers may not even want that. Create short pieces that will entertain and add value, but add to your mix longer and more thoughtful content, such as white papers, ebooks and research, that will help establish you and your company as leaders and experts in your field or industry.

4. Visuals

One of the most effective ways to make your content readable is by converting it to a visual format, such as an infographic, slide deck or even a video. Doing so requires that you break your content down to its absolute bare bones, which again, for readers like me, makes it much easier to consume.

Also, while adding pictures to your content may not necessarily make content more readable, high impact visuals will help you differentiate and make it more noticeable. The Buzzsumo study found that content with accompanying visuals was shared twice as much as those without.

Of course, search engine optimization is also an important consideration for your headline and your content, but while you can create content that pushes SEO, I would argue that content that adds value and ultimately creates publishers of your readers through unsolicited shares creates more value for your company.

Focus your SEO efforts on other website elements to drive traffic, but let your creativity loose with your content to drive the conversation.