No matter what goals you have for your site, usability and simplicity should be some of the key components you take into account during web design and content creation.
Thinking of your site like a brick-and-mortar business can help you accomplish this as many of the lessons learned from physical stores still apply to your online presence.
Like a physical business, customers want a site to look professional and appealing. They want an easy directory of goods/services. They want to know how to receive help if they need it. The list goes on and on and applies to everything you present from the types of images your site hosts to the color scheme you choose.
But in addition to what customers want, a good business foresees what a customer needs, even if the customer might not be able to pinpoint or articulate it.
With this post we’ll be looking at ways to satisfy the needs of customers by effectively optimizing written content for an engaging user experience. If done successfully, the results will often appear effortless but will go a long way in ensuring customers connect with your brand.
1. Keep Them Reading
A smooth sentence and paragraph flow is vital to holding an audience’s attention, no matter if you’re working on a short story, a novel, an article, or a list of instructions. And yet, all too often I see online content that doesn’t take this into account and provides no steady flow for the reader.
A lot of this comes by way of having many “brick walls” in the written content—that is to say sentences or paragraphs that seemingly come out of nowhere, changing focus and distracting or stopping a reader in their tracks.
The more a reader is pulled out of the message you’re trying to convey, the more irritated they are likely to become and the less likely they will be to have a positive site experience.
Some methods to prevent brick walls include:
- Lead-in and Lead-out clauses – Statements like “Examples include…,” “This helps because…,” “creating numerous possibilities, such as…” and many others go a long way to bridge information and keep users engaged.
- Proper organization – Sometimes sentences and paragraphs feel incongruous with each other because they simply are, as ideas are being wedged together haphazardly. Better organization of material from the outset can help prevent these problems altogether.
- Section breaks – These devices offer great versatility, since you can either lead into them from a previous section and further an idea, or use the new section as an opportunity to hit the “reset button.”
A sudden change in focus is not only acceptable in this format, it’s often expected. Just make sure you satisfactorily finished your previous section/point before moving on.
2. Be Mindful of Paragraph Length
Another important factor to keep in mind for engaging content is presenting information in easily-digestible units.
Since no one wants to read a stream of text that looks like an old LiveJournal post, utilizing a reasonable length for each paragraph, in conjunction with bullets, pictures, and other graphics, will create a much more visually-pleasing and easy to access article. Keeping paragraph length to about 4-5 Word document lines is good to remember as a maximum.
This is the same rule of thumb employed by screenplay writers who are well aware of the importance of readability and the “breathing room” of white space within their work.
Curtailing paragraph length isn’t enough, though. You also need variety.
Switching between paragraphs of differing lengths will go a long way to make your piece readable and accessible. Also, short, single-line paragraphs can be very useful to convey emphasis, functioning almost like a mini section break. The previous paragraph is an example of this.
However, single-line paragraphs can also be odd and distracting if the information they are conveying is not particularly grabbing, so use them judiciously.
3. Use Repetition and Variation Appropriately
Paragraph length shouldn’t be the only variation you utilize. Switching up adjectives, verbs and nouns within paragraphs and sections will ultimately produce a better copy and will keep the reader focused.
For instance, if you’re saying X is good for the customer, don’t just stick with “best,” expand out and incorporate words like:
Better yet, get more descriptive with an applicable modifier like:
Nouns can be somewhat more limited, but there is usually a workaround. For instance, I write for numerous elderly communities and the word “resident” is used quite a bit. To keep the copy fresh and avoid glaring repetition, I’ll often substitute “senior” to keep the paragraphs readable.
You might think this is “Writing 101” level advice, and it probably is if you have a strictly writing or English background, but many content writers come from diverse backgrounds. While their grammar and client-focused content may be sound, their line-reading might suffer from lack of experience and training.
Remember, variation is key to good copy as long as it’s not distracting (using an odd word in place of a more appropriate one) or flowery. And in some cases you may want to reword your sentence structure to avoid a word altogether, that way you don’t keep reusing it throughout the paragraph and end up sounding like ContentBot 7-4X.
The flip side of this is knowing when to use repetition. The use of repetition is positive when you are structuring a sentence similar to this one, presenting it as a leaping off point from a previous sentence.
Also, repetition inherently stresses a point and makes someone take note. You’ll often see this trait employed for taglines attached to products, with something like “Easy to Order, Easy to Build, Easy to Use” being an example.
So use repetition and variation to your advantage and you’ll maintain a natural flow and keep your reader from having to suffer through stiff, mechanical copy.
4. Enhance, Don’t Obscure
Lastly, make sure what you’re posting does actually add to the customer’s experience, and isn’t just a string of 500+ words you need to close out your day.
To that effect, the content you create and your presentation of it is vital, but in some cases what you leave out is just as important. If you feel uncertain about including some aspect of a product, or a client provides conflicting info, I’d argue it’s better to leave the information out if possible. Some examples:
- I’ve seen pages for businesses who want to declare low prices or high salaries through training, but they refuse to provide any real numbers, instead transparently talking around the issue for multiple paragraphs.
While I can understand not wanting to advertise prices or salaries for certain reasons, I also wouldn’t draw attention to the fact that your business doesn’t want to advertise prices or salaries. It makes them appear less than reputable and a careful consumer would question trusting them. Simply say they have low prices or high wages and move on. People can contact the business to find out more.
- Another problem I see is “and more…” If “and more” is being hyperlinked to further info, great. If not, cut it. All it really says is “I’m holding back info,” or “I’m saying there’s more when really I’ve got nothing.”
Using a statement like “Examples include…” or “Applications include…” is much cleaner and simpler, implying there’s more than will fit on a finite list, and it’s free of the carrot-dangling of “and more.”
The problem with these approaches as I see it is even if you aren’t trying to obscure or be deceptive, you can easily come off as a used car salesman.
Customers expect patter. They expect you to talk up your brand and be proud of it, singing its praises from the mountaintop. But very few customers are willing to feel manipulated.
So if you need to avoid an issue, avoid it—don’t hedge your bets. Customers can follow-up with a business in an email or a phone call, where a more personal, individual conversation can take place.
Now Get Writing
Hopefully these tips have given you plenty to think about the next time you’re in front of your keyboard. Make something worthwhile, provide the user with valuable content, and over time your hard work will pay off.
And for more insights about content and SEO, keep following Sixth City Marketing.