Are you a scanner?
Before you have read these words, it’s likely you have already scanned this page and picked out a few parts or headings that may interest you.
It’s one of the key differences between reading print and reading on screen, but there are many others that have come into play as more and more of the content we consume is online.
Skimming and scanning, F-patterns and inverted pyramids may sound like terms used in sports analysis, but they are actually a few of the ways readers prefer to engage with content on screen.
The fact is that living in a digital world has led reading habits to change dramatically. So, in order for your online content to be successful, it’s crucial to understand how your viewers see your content and what you can do to make it more effective and enjoyable for them to read.
Or, did you read this first?
When most people read a book, or even a newspaper or magazine, they usually read several pages or articles in order. But online, research suggests that more than 75% of us will scan the page first, trying to pick out individual words or sentences.
It’s often a choice made automatically, our eyes naturally jumping ahead to identify whether reading the piece of text we are presented with is actually worthwhile.
This is where skimming and scanning comes in. When you first opened this blog, it’s likely you scanned the headline, the first sub-heading, and then picked out some of the words in bold. If they caught your attention, perhaps you skimmed through the introduction and decided the read was worth your time.
The point is that you need to make your online content scannable if you want readers to take notice. Advances in technology have left readers with incredibly short attention spans, so readers tend to scan copy to find key information. If they can’t find it quickly, they will move on.
The easy fix is to make sure your key messages stand out in some way, whether it’s through sub-headings, bullet points or bold fonts. Keep your paragraphs short and think carefully about the placement of your keywords on your viewers’ screens.
But there are other, more subtle techniques too.
Making sense of the F-pattern
Scanning a page is one thing, but eye-tracking technology tells us that the F-pattern is the most common reading style when it comes to online behaviour.
This means most readers start reading horizontally at the top of the page, scan down, glance across once more, and then continue down the left-hand side of the page, creating an F shape.
Make sure you bear this in mind when drafting copy for your website or emails. Getting the most important parts of your message into that F-pattern means it will likely be read by more people.
Turning that copy pyramid upside down
Use these tips if you want your online copy to be more effective.
The line above is a very short example of the inverted pyramid style, which simply means starting with your conclusion, or putting your most important messages at the top.
We’ve already covered how short attention spans are, so if you’re worried that your reader won’t make it to your conclusion, why not start with it!
If you’re covering a lot of ground or if your copy presents complex ideas, the inverted pyramid can be a great way to get your key messages at the top of the page where they are more likely to be digested and understood by the reader.
You won’t believe what happened next
The heading above hopefully made you cringe as much as I did when I was writing it. Simply put, clickbait and overly ‘marketese’ content should be avoided at all costs.
Not only will you annoy your viewers, who simply will not give you the time if you cannot give them valuable content straight away, but you will also damage your credibility.
If your writing and messaging are strong enough, you won’t need to rely on such underhand tactics. So instead, consider these tips:
- Identify keywords and make them stand out
- Break up blocks of text with sub-headings
- One idea per sentence, two sentences per paragraph
- High quality graphics
- Creating ‘personas’ so you can target specific groups – read our blog on personas
- Adding links to show you know what you’re talking about.
If you’re finding it difficult to make an impact with your audience we’d love to help. Why not drop us a line and see what we can do for you.
We’ve all seen an awkward interview, whether it’s Jeremy Paxman grilling a slippery politician or Quentin Tarantino threatening to ‘shut down’ Krishnan Guru-Murthy (well worth another watch, by the way).
But outside of the celebrity and political pressure cookers, how do interviews work? What are interviews like? And what are reporters looking for?
The key point to remember about the press – which covers print, online, broadcast, mainstream, national, trade, vertical and so on – is that it’s their job to tell a story that their audience cares about.
So, if you know what their audience cares about, you can most likely have a compelling conversation that will result in good coverage.
Of course, each reporter also has their own style. But it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll be involved in a hostile interview. As long as you’re well prepared, most interviews will be a very positive experience for both sides.
Before the interview, you need to develop your messages. This first requires you to know your audience. Who is the reporter? What is their level of technical understanding? Have they covered this topic before? Who will be reading their work?
Next, consider your own responsibilities. Do you need to do any research to get up to speed? Does your own opinion match your company position? Do you need to tailor your message to the reporter’s audience?
If you can get into a routine and answer these questions before an interview, you will already have done most of the hard work.
An acronym I like to use is that reporters want you to keep it REAL:
- Your comments must be Relevant to their story and bring something new to the table
- Be prepared to Educate if you’re discussing issues that require technical knowledge that the reporter is unlikely to have. Their audience may be in the same boat
- Prepare some Anecdotes that you can turn to. Stories, examples and case studies can provide reporters with the soundbites they need to make a story come to life
- Always Listen carefully to questions. Treat each one as an opportunity and remember that there are no bad questions, only bad answers.
Stay in control
With your preparation complete, you should now focus on delivering your messages during the interview. Of course, you should allow conversation to flow – it’s not an interrogation after all. But whether the interview is in person or on the phone, live or recorded, make sure you direct the conversation towards your key messages.
A classic technique is to tell a reporter what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you just told them.
It sounds laughable, but it does work to keep you focussed. However, with a bit of experience and confidence you can move towards a more sophisticated approach. Ideally, you should make a claim, back it up with proof points and examples, and then explain why the reporter – and their audience – should care.
This level of focus means you can avoid commenting on topics outside your own area of expertise. And while the press loves a strong opinion, you should make sure your messages align with your company’s.
Build a bridge
If you do find yourself in an awkward situation during an interview, a technique that can help you stay on track and limit the chances of any mistakes is bridging.
During your preparation you should come up with some key messages that you want to include in your answers. Even during the most difficult sections of an interview, your messages should allow you to take control of the conversation and bridge to a more comfortable situation.
These are typically statements that start with:
- What’s actually most important here is…
- Let’s focus on the issue at hand…
- What you really need to know is…
Think of it like feeding sharks from an island. The island is your key messages. It’s safe, comfortable and you’re familiar with it. But occasionally you have to swim out to feed the sharks – in this case, answer a reporter’s question. Once you’ve fed the sharks, you want to use the bridging technique to get back to the safety of your island as soon as you can.
This method can also be used to combat some techniques that sharky reporters may turn to, such as asking you to comment on false facts or hypotheticals, or machine gun-style multi-part questions that are meant to unsettle you.
If you feel like you’re treading water instead of acing your interviews, or if you need help to develop your message and increase coverage, why not get in touch and see how we can help.
Download our dedicated How to Guide: Essential Guide to Managing a Press Interview
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You’ve got a great product or service that appeals to a wide audience. That’s fantastic! But how do you define your messaging to meet the needs of all these different people?
It’s a question that comes up often, and it’s one that I like to think of as a ‘good’ problem.
It’s good because it’s not a bad problem to have in the first place. It means you are doing something right and your product or service is bound for success with the right plan behind it.
It’s also good because it’s an easy problem to solve.
Trying to hit your entire audience with content that will appeal to everyone is likely to be a confusing task that will give everyone involved a headache.
Instead, let’s slice that audience (figuratively, of course) into easy to define segments.
Once we have these segments, we can characterise them as personas. Imagine each persona as a real person – give them a name if you like!
You could have Julie, a tech-savvy decision maker who likes to share interesting content with her influential followers. Or Peter, who values dependability and support over the latest gadgets and unsubscribes if he receives too many sales emails.
With each persona, consider their own objectives, responsibilities and decision-making influence.
I’d recommend trying to define three to five personas that represent these segments. You can do this by thinking about differentiators like age, location, job role, goals, challenges and any specific values that apply to your business.
You can also consider your current customers, research your email subscribers or even check out your social media followers. Anything that helps to narrow down a segment and improve your understanding of your audience’s goals.
Even after these few basic steps, you can begin creating content aimed at each persona. You’ll quickly find that even a rough outline of the ‘person’ you’re writing for will help you focus on meeting their needs.
It will also help with other techniques, such as addressing your reader in an active voice, as you can feel confident that you are addressing them directly.
Having content with a clear message that’s easy for each persona to understand is absolutely vital.
Especially when it’s so easy to switch off or look elsewhere.
If your audience is confused, they’re not going to hang around.
Just by reading this, it’s likely that you fall into a persona that I created. You could be a Jeff, or perhaps a Katie. Weird huh?
The objective is always the same: to deliver useful content that is relevant to the person reading it.
So stop trying to cast your net too wide, and power up your personas instead!
What type of blog catches your attention?
Do you like inspirational pieces? Or perhaps a personal, Q&A style article?
How about blogs that offer advice, or those that pique your interest by choosing a curious topic or angle?
Blog writers are always coming up with innovative styles to capture the interest of old and new readers alike. But one reader that blog writers can always count on is Google.
“Why won’t google pick up my blog? It looks great and I wrote at least 10 words..”
Google isn’t picky when it comes to style. Content is the real winner.
Google’s love for blogs means that an interesting and regularly updated blog section can work wonders for search engine optimisation (SEO).
- Blogs are often full of keywords and phrases that you or your business want to rank highly for in internet searches.
- Readers want frequently updated and well-written content, and so does Google. Blogging is the perfect way to gain interest for all the right reasons.
- Most blogs already feature web appropriate content that Google will prioritise in its rankings.
- Blogs usually feature many links to other parts of a website, interesting articles and further reading. Google loves a connected piece of content!
- Another Google favourite is trackbacks and pingbacks. They are the equivalent of references at the end of a chapter in a text book, automatically notifying another blogger if you have linked to their article.
- Finally, blogs enrich your own web of content and provide Google with the information it needs to connect you with the search terms you want to rank highly for.
Although blogs come in many different shapes and sizes, there are some simple guidelines that can be followed if you want to pull in more viewers as well as get Google’s attention.
Consider that your human viewers take 25% longer to read from a screen vs print. So use short words and keep to one idea per paragraph, which should be no more than two sentences.
No word on how long non-humans take to read blogs..
Blogs need to be well-written, but don’t procrastinate. Blogs do not need to be polished articles, and you can always add further thoughts and follow up with another blog.
There is some debate of the perfect blog length, so don’t feel restricted when it comes to word count. Around 300-500 words was generally accepted as the optimal length but longer articles, up to 2,000 words, are becoming common.
Google often values these longer pieces as they are usually full of new and interesting content, so if you have a lot to say then go for it.
Image-based posts are also becoming poplar, so don’t forget to select pictures carefully. You could even consider basing a blog completely around a set of images.
If improving your search ranking is a target, make a regularly updated blog a key weapon in your arsenal. Google will thank you for it!
But if blogging sounds like too much of a slog, or you need help getting your keywords into your content, we’d love to help so get in touch!
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