Sure, coherence and clarity are critical if you want readers to understand and enjoy what you’re published. But there’s a whole lot more you can do with your content to ensure maximum reader engagement.
For the purposes of this article, when we talk about optimizing content, we won’t be referring to the writing style. Word choices, sentence structure, tone… we’re assuming you’ve got all of these things down.
What we’re looking at in this piece is something more physical – the layout of your content and how it appears on your readers’ screens. We’re going to be looking at ways that you can draw your readers into your posts by structurally making them more enjoyable to engage with.
Why Does Structure Matter?
You may be wondering why digital content should have its structure optimized when people have been engaging with books for centuries. Surely, a straightforward wall of text would be fine, given that people still devour hundreds of millions of novels every year?
The major difference between digital content and more traditional publishing is what the reader wants to get out of it. In most cases, humans simply don’t invest in online content in the same way they do a novel because they want very different things from these two formats.
People skim-read online content because they’re looking for something specific. Most commonly, that would be the answer to a question they googled. They’re eager to find this information, and anything that doesn’t look like it is pointless to them.
Here are some interesting stats that’ll drive this point home for our more skeptical readers:
- The Nielsen Group found that around 80% of a web page’s content will remain unread during a visit.
- On average, more than half of all page views last only 15 seconds.
- When compared to reading print material, people miss the finer details communicated by text on their screens.
To overcome these and other constraints, marketers and bloggers need to get clever when structuring their content.
We need our visitors to read as much of what we publish as possible because that’s the essence of engagement. Frequently, the content our readers gloss over is critical to nurturing them and converting them into customers.
Let’s take a look at some actionable tactics you can start using immediately to boost readers’ engagement with more of the content you publish in a single post.
Avoid the Dreaded Wall of Text
In case the term wasn’t descriptive enough, “wall of text” refers to a tall, wide, unbroken section of copy that covers the majority of a user’s screen.
They alienate readers who want to skim-read and severely impede comprehension. Walls of text can also affect a reader’s perception of the amount of reading they have to do, giving them the impression that there’s a massive, difficult journey ahead of them, rather than a pleasant reading experience.
Simply put, they’re not great for engagement.
The most effective method of breaking your content up into more accessible sections of information is a process called “chunking.”
It’s a wonderfully descriptive term that’s pretty easy to implement, even though it often does mean you need to spend a bit of extra time thinking about your article’s layout and the positioning of information.
Here are some chunking tips to help you prevent this engagement killer.
- Use headings frequently. Breaking sections with unique concepts into headings and subheadings doesn’t just help with chunking. It also helps your readers find the information they’re looking for and aids in skim reading.
- Don’t fill the browser with text. Create “breathing room” on either side of the body content by placing sidebar UI elements or simply using negative space. Strictly speaking, this isn’t a chunking method, but it’s seriously effective if you want to avoid building an impenetrable wall of text. This post from Finli shows us a great example of using negative space for this purpose.
- Use bulleted lists. When you place a sequence or group of ideas in any kind of list that’s visually different from surrounding content, you’re breaking a wall of text into something more accessible.
- Use short paragraphs. While there are established grammatical rules governing the use of paragraphs in traditional publishing, the online world seems to be largely free of these constraints. I’ve read blog posts published on highly reputable platforms that use hard line breaks after virtually every sentence. Neil Patel is clearly a big believer in this approach.
- Place selected content sections inside dedicated visual frames. Some of your article’s content deserves to be highlighted. And sometimes, simple text formatting simply won’t cut it. Feel free to build an HTML element that houses your article’s most important points. Take a look at how Sleep Junkie does this in their Best Mattress of 2021 post.
Use Photos, Video, and Other Visual Elements Liberally
Technically, the use of media could be part of the chunking discussion, but since it serves some weighty purposes beyond breaking up a wall of text, a dedicated section discussion is warranted.
The human brain processes an image up to 60,000 times faster than text. Communicating a concept visually has a massive impact on how accessible your content is to a user that’s skim-reading.
At the same time, video is steadily becoming one of the web’s favorite content formats, a fact that most marketers are beginning to exploit. A 2021 study conducted by WyzOwl revealed that 93% of businesses consider video an important part of their marketing strategy.
Videos embedded into blog posts break up the “tedium” of reading, re-engage the user’s attention, and offer a second opportunity to communicate vital conversion-driving facts to hasty readers.
A website that absolutely nails this approach on an exceptionally information-heavy page of content is LFA Capsule Fillers. The company makes excellent use of various visual elements to keep visitors engaged. Let’s take a look at some of these.
- The longest section of text that a visitor sees before a visual element is displayed is an extremely digestible 143.
- Each of the product’s eight unique selling points is accompanied by a striking, meaningful icon. On top of this, these USPs are displayed in a table format, making them extremely accessible and easy to read.
- A highly informative, professionally produced video placed halfway down the page acts as a reading “intermission.” It gives additional information while also repeating and clarifying important facts that drive conversion.
- Product variants are compared to each other in an attractive, easy-to-understand table format.
- Product images are hi-res and contain helpful annotations.
- A second video delving into even more detail than the first pushes engagement potential through the roof.
- Facts and figures are almost always presented in a grid format, significantly reducing the amount of “traditional” reading a visitor needs to do.
Use a Table of Contents for Long Articles
As mentioned before, people are going to skim-read your content. There’s no getting around it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though.
Embrace this fact and make it easy for your visitors to find the section they’re looking for. Sure, they may miss something that’s important in terms of lead nurturing and conversion, but that’s not as bad as them simply closing their browser because they can’t find what they’re looking for!
One of the most effective ways to give your readers a shortcut straight to the content areas they’re interested in is to provide a table of contents with hyperlinks. Typically, this is only used in lengthy blog posts that can be categorized into logical sections.
Take a look at how Recipe Fairy goes about implementing their table of contents in this lengthy piece on copycat recipes.
Note how the writer only placed the element after the post’s introduction and header image. While the site clearly wants to make things easy for their visitors, they’re not quite willing to have them skip past content that they still feel is critical to engagement and conversion.
Your content’s potential to engage and convert is directly correlated to how readable it is. And by “readable,” I’m not only referring to grammar, sentence structure, and word choices.
In an online context, readability also takes into account how accessible readers find the physical structure of your content.
To maximize your blog’s engagement, remember the main constraint you’re facing: readers aren’t as invested in your post as they would be a novel or news article. They’re almost certainly skim-reading it, hoping for an interesting or pertinent tidbit of info to jump out at them.
Don’t fight this. You’re not going to change people’s online behavior. Instead, publish content that caters to this reality. Make it work for you by chunking your content and providing helpful summaries and visuals.
On top of this, never stop researching or thinking about new ways that you can optimize your content’s accessibility. Take ownership of this journey, and you will reap the rewards soon enough.