Tag Archives: scan readers

Why we fight every day to make content special

16 Dec
Create great content

Why do we fight? To create great content every day.

Creating consistently good content for Facebook status posts, Twitter tweets, LinkedIn updates, YouTube videos and blog posts means repeating good patterns, dropping poor efforts and never settling for average.

When I discover good content it’s because:

  • I haven’t read this idea before.
  • I have seen this before, but you’ve organized it in a different, more appealing way.
  • The image catches my eye, but doesn’t trick me. Don’t be vulgar or crass because I’ll remember to avoid your content.
  • You’ve asked for my opinion or have called me to act.
  • The page has multiple headlines, images and bullet points. I’m bound to discover something in my F-pattern scan.
  • You’ve shared attribution or identified the content with a name I recognize.
  • Your recently created content is a perfect fit for my recently created content. You discovered my content through search and delivered your content at the right time.
  • I’ve discovered something unexpected. Thanks for making me slow down and learn something.
  • You’ve avoided clichés and overused memes that make me wince.
  • You are careful not to over distribute. Seeing a wave of content prompts me to set a pattern – that is overlooking your content.

When I discover good content I want to share it with others. What was the best thing you’ve noticed in the past week?


Good web writing protects the narrative

19 Aug

Chalice by Joelk75

Photo by Joelk75

It was a meeting of old school/new school when I suggested to my friend Rod how to improve his music review on John Mellencamp with better web writing.

I love his writing and understand his style and pace, but attention deficit-driven listeners might ping-pong right past (I noted the 0 comments and only 8 tweets that the review produced).

Let’s keep the narrative in the chalice. I love the part about Mellencamp’s travel studios and retro recording, but let’s add elements to the top and bottom to satisfy the scan readers and web writing best practices.

Summary paragraph

You can think of it as a deck head. It tells the reader what’s coming. Jakob Neilsen is a web usability guru who has done wonderful research on how people use  websites and how they read on websites.

Subheads every six paragraphs

Search robots and spiders scan web content for H1 heads, H2 heads, copy, links, etc. So when you build subheads you not only give the page better readability but make it more searchable.

Layered links

Build pop-up hyperlinks into your story? When people scan content they might come across an idea or reference that they want to explore. Old school thinking was that it was dumb to give people the opportunity to leave the page. New school is that you become a trusted reference source and people will scan a pop-up box and return to your content, satisfied and convinced that you are a credible source.

Bottom call to action

After your brilliant closing thought, you ask a question or reference more information. Don’t exit softly into the night, leave me wanting more.

Don’t bruise a great narrative by stuffing it into rigid format. Keep the narrative in the chalice (keep it pure), but liberate the content for web search and readability.

Read Rod Lockwood’s review and let us know what you think.

Layering web content helps your readers

26 Feb

Layering running gear for cold temperatures involves 3 layers

Anyone who has ever trained for a marathon in the dead of winter and cannot bear a long run on the treadmill knows about layering. Anyone who has ever tried to keep readers from overloading on web content also knows about layering.

Layering (or linking) web content helps to pace and divide information on a web page. This helps each web reader get the amount of information that they want on a topic and prevents the reader from feeling overwhelmed.

Layering running gear for cold temperatures involves 3 layers: a base layer, middle layer and outer shell.

  • Base layer: A tech or wicking fiber to keep the skin dry.
  • Middle layer: Long-sleeve micro-fiber insulates and regulates your core temperature.
  • Outer shell: Protects from wind, water and snow. An example of the blend might be 65 percent nylon, 25 percent polyester, and 10 percent spandex.

Layering web content involves 3 layers.

You can use pop-up windows or opening and closing overlays on the same page, but overall you have improved usability by giving readers an opportunity to digest the base content and decide if they want more information.

Your web writing and content strategy has served two groups: scan readers, who have satisfied themselves with your initial offering and people who seek a deeper dive into your base content with layered links.

Now that you understand layering you’re ready for a 12-mile run in 25-degree February weather.

Write to reward the scanning multitudes

17 Feb

 To write effectively we must understand how people choose content online.

Content not tailored for the scan reader is wasted effort.

Content not tailored for the scan reader is wasted effort.

Words are precious. Many are written, but few are chosen.


Watch someone use a TV remote, or track arrivals and departures at the airport, or view the major news channels, with scroll bars, turn cubes and sidebar pulldown boxes.

How do people read? They don’t read in a traditional fashion. They scan.

Michael Gass on Social Media Today notes the Nielsen Norman Group’s research finding that 79 percent of test users scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word. Nielsen text construction tips:

1.       Highlighted keywords 

2.       Meaningful sub-heads 

3.       Bulleted lists

4.       One idea per paragraph

5.       Inverted pyramid style – conclusion first

6.       Half the word count (or less)



Nielsen’s research also found that users detested promotional writing style – marketese. Start to sell and we start to scan right through your efforts.

From years of newspaper page design (Gannett and McClatchy papers) and constant guidance from Poynter Institute “eyetrack” studies, I absolutely agree. Content not tailored for the scan reader is wasted effort.

That’s a shame. Just a little design help (usually resisted) improves the chances that a reader will consume. Write it right for reward.