Have you heard the myth that human attention spans have declined in the last couple of decades? That goldfish can focus longer than the average human?
Myth it may be, grounded on shaky statistics.
Yet many modern readers do seem to prefer online content they can consume in small chunks that are easy to digest.
What does that mean for your online content? Current wisdom dictates that it should be easy to read, easy to skim. In this post, I’ll give you some practical tips on how to make that happen. But first, let’s check out why.
Benefits of Writing Skimmable Content: Writing that Packs a Wallop
What is “skimmable?”
First, let’s define “skimmable.”
It describes content that someone with time constraints (real or imagined) can read in a few minutes.
The point and subpoints are easy to identify. The writing is concise.
In other words, you’ve hooked your reader with a great title. Now you need to deliver on what it promised without the reader having to dig too much.
Why is it important?
Skimmable content works well for any online writing. Think social media posts, blog posts, articles, emails, even ads.
Why? One word—engagement.
The more easily people can read and understand your message, the easier they will find it to engage with. Let’s look at how this works:
- Social Media/Blog Posts—grow your audience and/or increase participation from current readership.
- Email newsletters/advertisements—generate more leads and drive more traffic back to your website.
- SEO—help your reader find what they’re looking for quicker on a page. If people feel they’re getting value from your content, they’ll stay on your site longer. And that increases the chance of them clicking on something else you have on there too!
How do I Write Skimmable Content?
We’ll start with word count and work our way from there.
What is the optimum word count? Depends on what you are writing and whom you ask.
- Blog post/article: Recent wisdom says anywhere from 500-1000, citing more discussion among readers. But other writers point out that longer posts/articles rank higher on Google searches and get more actual hits, possibly even more clicks.
- Email newsletter: advice on optimal length varies between 50 and 200 words.
- Social media posts: Twitter limits lengths to 280 characters. But current wisdom about posts on any social media platform all say the same thing: shorter is better.
My advice? After much Googling, and analyzing search results, here is some consensus on several topics:
- For blog posts and articles, think about the topic/s you want to cover. Make sure you’re writing enough to give full coverage to your topic. Still, most people are saying 1250-2500 words. To learn more, check out great coverage of the topic by blog tyrant: How Long Should a Blog Post Be?
- For emails/newsletters, consider your target audience. Length can depend on who they are and how well they know you. This site gives some solid advice on that note: How Long Should Your Marketing Emails Be?
- For social media, see above on “current wisdom.”
Break it down, baby
Word length aside, you should write so your reader can quickly understand key points.
A few tips:
- Keep paragraphs short. 3-5 sentences each is good, 1-3 is even better!
- Don’t use too many long sentences.
- Use bullet points and lists.
- Use headings and subheadings.
This makes your content more digestible. How so?
Readers won’t have to read complicated sentences to get to your point or stay awake through long paragraphs to understand a simple concept.
As for headings and subheadings? They clearly label each section of your writing and provide signposts to guide the reader from point to point. Not only that, they help your SEO.
This brings me to my next point.
SEO –optimizing your search engine results
This topic deserves a book, not an article subsection. But since a subsection is what I have to work with, I’ll cover a few brief points, focusing on blog posts and articles. Keep in mind, though, that you can apply some of the principles to social media posts as well.
Note: while emails aren’t an SEO content category, some SEO savvy might make your emails stand out in the inbox.
SEO depends on several factors:
- Your title (for blog posts/articles).
There are tools to determine how your title will rank.
One I like is Coschedule. You can create a free or paid account.
But the free account gives you plenty to work with. You put in a title (headline), and Coschedule ranks it on how likely it is to grab readers’ attention.
Only the paid version lets you see its SEO ranking. Still, SEO does not depend on title alone, so I’m usually OK with a score from the high 60s through the low 80s.
Also, the free account doesn’t give you access to all the sites’ word banks. But Google works great to find less-common synonyms or “emotional word banks.”
And of course, use high-ranking keywords.
(Email peeps—I’m no expert on marketing emails, but you might consider using this tool for your subject lines or titles.)
- The first sentence/paragraph.
You learned this from 3rd grade through grad school: give your reader a roadmap of where you’re going.
For grade-schoolers, that means a topic sentence or introductory paragraph. For post-secondary writers, it’s your thesis statement.
For bloggers and online article writers, it means your first sentence needs to have keywords, terms that people are searching for. That tells search engines what you’re writing about. So choose good keywords to put in your first couple of sentences.
- Section headings/subheadings
Here again—make sure not only that they’ll grab your readers’ attention and clearly label the information you’re imparting, but use your keywords.
- Keyword Research.
My three preceding points depend on this. Your title, first couple of sentences, and section headings should include good keywords.
Have no idea what those are?
Hurray for the Internet! You can find lots of great how-to information on keyword research and good SEO practices there.
One I like that offers a lot of valuable information for free is www.backlinko.com. Sign up for the newsletter, and they’ll send you a whole course—for free!
Apply Basic Writing Skills
Again, this builds on what you learned in third grade.
- Use clear topic sentences to draw readers in.
- Keep sentences short.
- Don’t use a long word where a short one will do.
- Avoid jargon or acronyms that readers may not understand.
- Vary sentence length. Yes, what I said earlier about not using lots of lengthy sentences is true. BUT you don’t want to bore your readers or sound like a caveman, either.
- What about sentence type? Vary it. (See what I just did?) Again, you don’t want to go overboard on this, but an occasional question or even more occasional exclamation point can freshen your writing.
- Use strong verbs. That means using action verbs when possible (and not ludicrous). Even more importantly, choose active voice over passive voice whenever possible. Not sure what that is? Contact me via my website for more information. I’ll send you a free guide: Audience Granted Ghostwriters.
If you’re trying to up your online content engagement or even your audience, skimmable content and SEO are two things you should focus on. Aside from that, many of the effective writing skills you learned in school still hold true.
You can make your content easy to skim is with relative ease. Concise writing, bullet points, and section headings require little effort to achieve.
But SEO and keyword research are more complicated. Plus, they’re constantly evolving.
The good news? The discriminating online learner can find tools to help and good resources that teach effective techniques.
Writing has always been where skill and art combine. For writers of online content, these techniques will help make your writing more effective.
keywords: search engine optimization benefits, skimmable content pros and cons, writing tips, article length, sub-headings