People are busy. Reading from a screen is a different mindset than reading from the page. This is why I don’t use e-readers if I want to slow my brain down to read. Also why I use real notebooks with paper and a pen when I need to use my creative brain.
When we engage with screens, devices, keyboards…our brain is primed to move fast and consume, consume, consume. And this is totally ok.
You just need to know how to reach your digital audience and arrest their attention.
Here are 6 things I keep in mind while writing long form copy for the web.
1. Understand the user
The “user” is your audience. Precisely: a set of human eyes skimming your copy for what it means to them. Even more precisely: a human with needs, desires, stressors, and limited time.
Your user isn’t going to read your content word-for-word.
They’re going to skim for what’s meaningful and read between the lines.
It’s important as a brand or persona to provide useful, meaningful content. Because no matter how we evolve as humans, one thing will always be true:
The most important thing to anyone is THEM. We are always asking “what’s in it for us?” Your audience won’t find value in a glowing review of yourself. Be useful.
2. Speed Bumps
Throughout your copy, locate opportunities to separate key points onto their own line. Make them bigger. These are your speed bumps. They help to:
- Slow down readers’ skimming.
- Maintain some control over the pace at which they read.
- Communicate the most important things you want them to know, even if they don’t read word-for-word.
Other examples of speed bumps could be quote blocks, bullets or product reviews.
3. Bite the bullet(s)
I’m a huge user of bullet points and listicles.
Long-form web content (even as long at 5,000 words) can help if the goal is to rank for a topic over any other brand covering that topic. These pages are rarely read top to bottom by the user. That’s not the purpose of these pages.
In a list, each new item reignites readers’ interest and acts as a speed bump to maintain their attention.
4. Titles that promise (and deliver)
As a fan of lists, I often put them in my titles:
- 5 ways to give your content legs
- 5 reasons brands should stop using BLOCK CAPS
- 3 things about brand everyone should know
This keeps readers in the light about what they can expect if they invest time on your content. While it may feel clickbaity, if you deliver on your value promise, they’ll be happy.
5. Strip Down
Strip, strip, strip your words down to the bare minimum required to deliver the information.
My 10th grader flopped onto my bed last week and groaned “uuuugh my teacher wants a thousand-word essay on The Cold War, but I’m done and it’s only five hundred words”. His brother, an eighth-grader, said, “look for every place you can take one word and turn it into more. Like instead of saying ‘I’m’, say ‘I am’. Instead of ‘The Cold War’, say ‘the war which was cold’.”
While the goal of your high school teacher may have been to squeeze more words out of you, when writing for the web, you need to strip down. Unflourish and banish redundancy.
Do the opposite of what you’d do to turn a 500-word essay into 1000 words.
If the brand calls for formality or technical language, it’ll be difficult to write the way you speak. But if there’s room for informality, try writing how you’d speak to speed things up. Other easy ways to strip down your language:
- Cut unnecessary words. Turn a sentence like “I think it’s pretty important to cut unnecessary words” into “cut unnecessary words”. It’s obvious I think it since I’m saying it.
- Cut adverbs. Words that (usually) end in -ly. These are fluff. Words like “totally” seep into my writing and are unnecessary. Other adverbs which can be filler fluff:
- Use contractions. Shorten into contractions as much as you can while being aware that this makes the tone casual which may go against the brand you’re writing for.
6. Start with your conclusion
This is another thing that goes against how you were taught to write in school.
Blog posts, product pages, sales emails…these aren’t essays. Your reader won’t wait for you to employ the methods you were trained in to present a hypothesis and build a case, ultimately ending in a paragraph that starts with “In conclusion…”
Web readers want to know where you’re heading before they jump in the car.
If this doesn’t come naturally, write how you might normally write, then take the conclusion and move it to the top.
You might even use these tips to breathe new life into old content. I’m often going back to finesse old stuff and this might even spark new ideas or give you an excuse to share those items again. Happy writing!