10 Simple Tips to Get More People to Read Your Writing

December 27, 2010

Summary:
10 ways to format content for the web. Follow these simple design tips to instantly get more people to read your content.


Your web content must be simple, short and scannable.

Web users are like ravenous animals foraging for food. They're not on a leisurely stroll to soak-up your web scenery. They're on a hasty hunt to get something.


Use these 10 design tips to break big, uninterrupted blocks of text into bite-sized pieces that are inviting and easy to digest.

1. Write Short Articles

People spend about 46 seconds on a 600-word article. That’s reality.

You must fragment your content into nuggets that users can assimilate in a two-minute visit to your site.

Divide in-depth content into a series of posts.

2. Write in a Simple Manner

Write like you talk. (But then edit ruthlessly.)

There are millions of other web pages competing for your reader’s attention. If your writing is difficult to understand, the user will leave your site to find one that is easier to comprehend.

About 40% of web users have low literacy. And everyone prefers language that is direct, plain and concise.

The hallmark of a great stylist is the ability to take a difficult idea and express it as simply as possible. ~Bryan Garner.

3. State Your Conclusion First

Write a summary of your article at the top of your page and make assertions in the subheads.

Then support your assertions in the body of your content.

This structure is called the inverted pyramid and it helps scanners to move from point to point before they decide where they’d like to dive in deeper.

4. Use Subheads that Make Assertions

Subheads divide your content into digestible pieces.

People scan web pages in an F-shaped pattern. Your subheads will help them catch the sections they’re interested in.

Use subheads that make assertions — e.g., “Write Short Articles,” not “My Thoughts on Article Length.”

5. Use Short Paragraphs

Write paragraphs with no more than 3 or 4 sentences — anything longer is daunting and begs to be skipped.

Use short sentences, too.

A wall of text is deadly for an interactive experience. Intimidating. Boring. Painful to read. ~Jakob Nielsen.

6. Use Images and Image Captions

Images provide visual evidence for your assertions and they can help users learn up to 27% more:1

Use image captions that are 2 to 3 sentences long. Studies show that users first read article summaries and image captions. Captions can reel them in to the whole article.

7. Highlight Important Words and Phrases

I usually bold important text. But you can also use:

  • Italics.
  • Colors.
  • Typefaces.

And colored text boxes, etc.

8. Use Lists

Lists work because they make a specific promise to your reader. I’ve promised to give you 10 tips that will get more people to read your writing.

My list captured your attention and kept you reading.

Writing in bullet-point lists might also help you to be pithier.

9. Use Links and Footnotes

Use internal links back to your own content to keep people on your site and reading your best material.

Use external links to show that you’ve researched your topic and that you’ve acknowledged other experts.

Links and footnotes ((The footnotes plugin that I’m using is WP-Footnotes.)) shield users from overwhelming detail while providing more information to those who need it.

10. Use Headlines that Describe the Content and Emphasize the Benefits

This is the most important tip.

On average, only 2 out of 10 people will click on a headline. If they don’t click on your headline, they’ll never read your article.

Your headline must:

  1. Meaningfully describe the content. (People don’t click on links that they don’t understand.)
  2. Provide the benefits of reading the content.

Copyblogger has the best series on how to write magnetic headlines.

What methods do you use to engage people to read your content?

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  1. Richard Mayer’s research on multimedia learning shows that students learn more when graphics accompany words. []

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Danielle December 30, 2010 at 12:49 am

I enjoyed this article. You emphasize just how short the reader’s attention span has become with internet browsing. I find that lists work quite well as they offer quick descriptions and get right to the point. I am particularly interested in point # 10 on the use of headlines. Do you have any suggestions to make the best use of Google and SEO?

Reply

Kevin Kane December 30, 2010 at 5:06 am

Hi Danielle,

One helpful SEO tool is Google’s Keyword Tool.

Say you wrote an article on 3 tips for buying jewelry. Should you title it:
- “3 tips for buying handmade jewelry” or
- “3 tips for buying designer jewelry”?

The Keyword Tool shows that there are:
- 74,000 searches a month for “handmade jewelry” and
- 110,000 searches for “designer jewelry.”

If you’re making designer jewelry, I’d use “designer” in the headline since more people search for that term. But if you’re focusing on the handmade jewelry niche, then it’s better to use “handmade” in the headline.

Reply

Alex December 30, 2010 at 11:45 am

Nice! Brief comments get read also.

Reply

Danielle December 30, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Thanks for the intro to the Google Keyword tool. I have never really looked at it and I think it will be very helpful. Do you know if it is best to use the selected keyword in the headline or in the 1st sentence of text?

Reply

Kevin Kane December 30, 2010 at 6:33 pm

@Alex: That’s very deep. Thanks for sharing. ;-)

Reply

Kevin Kane December 30, 2010 at 6:37 pm

@Danielle: The headline is more important than the first sentence for SEO.

Some people believe you should use a keyword-laden first sentence — but wouldn’t your human readers prefer a summary of the article instead?

Reply

Danielle January 1, 2011 at 3:03 am

Thanks for your insights!

Reply

Sohaib Chorawala January 7, 2011 at 11:06 am

Well said all the aforementioned ‘Tips’
and thanks for sharing such helpful material specially it can assist to the new writer in a better way.

Reply

Kevin Kane January 7, 2011 at 6:43 pm

Hi Sohaib, thanks for commenting.

I’ve been writing for years and I still have many writing problems! :)

Reply

Jennifer Nini April 3, 2011 at 10:38 am

Thanks for the tips – as a newish blogger I’m starting to understand that there is a difference to writing for a magazine and blogging… I have to keep reminding myself that blog readers are looking for short and sweet!!

Reply

Kevin Kane April 3, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Hi Jennifer,

If you’ve installed Google Analytics, you’ll see how much time people spend reading each of your web pages. For me it was a sobering experience.

But I found that shortening and reformatting articles actually increased the amount of time that visitors spent reading those articles!

Reply

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