Be kind to readers – 10 tips to learn how to write scannable content for the web.

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Image via petchonka.com

A few posts ago, I wrote about online reading habits and how today’s readers scan for important information rather than reading word by word. That post covered the why, but today we’ll go over the how.

I’ll get straight down to business – here’s 10 tips to help you write for the web and create scannable content.

1) Get to the Point Early

By this point in my post, you should know exactly what I’m writing about. If I was making an argument, you should know my point of view. If I was sharing a lesson I learned recently, you should already know what it is.

This is called the inverted pyramid style, meaning I lead with essential information and add more specific support as I move down the page. Structuring content this way enables scanners to quickly find points that interest them.

2) Headlines Matter

A strong headline is crucial since it helps get people to your page in the first place. It’s tempting to get witty with headlines, but you’re better off being straight forward. This way, people already know whether they want to read before they click.

Brian Clark of Copyblogger recommends writing headlines first to ensure that you deliver what you promise. A killer headline that communicates the benefits of reading your post will remind you to stay focused and keep content well-structured.

3) Subheaders Help Engage Your Audience

Treat your subheaders as mini-headlines or previews of your post. Subheaders help break up content into manageable chunks and inform readers what to expect. They’re also an effective way to keep your audience engaged and moving through the text.

Similar to headlines, strive for clarity over creativity.

4) Use Lists & Bullet Points

  • They are a great way to catch people’s attention.
  • They create naturally scannable content.
  • They also act as a visual break in a post.
  • Lists make catchy headlines (forget whether or not they are clichés – they work!)

5) Love the Line Break

Resist the urge to write a novel when you write for the web. I know it’s tough, but processing a block of text is hard for an online audience.  Split separate ideas up into paragraphs and keep them short.

Text is easier to read when it’s broken into pieces, and even the most complicated content is immediately less daunting when you add an introduction and some white space.

I also suggest playing around with paragraphs that are one sentence only.

6) Formatting Helps Highlight Ideas

Bolditalics, and CAPITALS help concepts stand out on the page, making it easy for readers to pick out important ideas without having to read every word.

A small word of warning – be careful not to go overboard. Overuse can actually make content harder to read instead of improving its readability.

7) Images, Videos, & Links

Adding images and videos is a great way to make content scannable, plus it adds a little pizzaz to the page.

8) Add Relevant Links

People love clicking on anchor text and linking quality content helps add value to your text. Direct them to relevant sources or use the opportunity to direct readers to your best content. Just be careful not to overwhelm people with too many links.

9) Use Words that Everyone Understands

This isn’t a reflection of how smart readers are – it’s about being international. Online content isn’t just reserved for native English speakers.  It can be viewed by users from all around the world.

No matter where you’re from (or your knowledge of English), the longer and more complex the writing, the faster readers will scan.

10) Readers Matter More Than Search Engines

SEO is important (no argument here), but don’t write for search engines. Readers can tell when you’re crafting content for them and when you’re catering to the algorithms of PageRank. Your writing should take center stage, not SEO.

Case in point: No one likes keyword stuffing, and no one wants to read texts that are examples of keyword stuffing. If you don’t like keyword stuffing (and who does?), then you’ll probably hate this example of keyword stuffing.

Did we miss a tip you think other writers should know about?

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