Write less. Mean more.

Folks don’t read digital content*

So why does every organisation and digital agency try to ram reams of content down our throats?

Is it because they are idiots? Or do they think consumers are idiots? Mostly, I suspect, it’s a combination of being paid by-the-word and laziness.

As a result, beautifully crafted content sits unread in dark corners. But it doesn’t have to be, people do take notice of:

  • Bullet points, now they are easy to consume
  • They are short and finite
  • Bounded by glorious whitespace
  • Web links stand-out

Big headlines get noticed

They are large, short and we’re conditioned to treat them as important summaries. Short sentences tend to get good reading time.

Even more so if they constructed as a single paragraph.

Quotes get people’s attention. Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Li Shizhen, 1531*

Big blocks of text simply disappear in front of our eyes, we scan the opening few words then get a little bored. If the digital content is full of distractions, and what web-site is not distracting, then by the time you’ve reached the third or fourth line you’ve lost all but the most committed of readers. Idle curiosity it what drives us to read content and that’s easily sated – hence why you really cannot ramble on endlessly with a difficult to read missives that makes abstract references to latin. Bad writing is no longer measured by basic rules of grammar and sentence construction but by the ability to keep the reader engaged. This paragraph is unreadable and just downright terrible – I bet you could re-write it in 10 words, maximum.

> So avoid showing off your writing talent with elegant prose, and remember that visitors have their mind on a specific task and are likely to be distracted by any number of interruptions.

Keep it short, and to the point.

Less is more

It’s also one of the hardest things to do. And also the most important, the explosion of smart-phones and tablets equals less space for content.

A typical mobile device can show a large heading and no more than 100 words without requiring the user to scroll. This is a good chunk-size to use for content.

TEN good tips we’ve found:

  • Pages should contain between 300 and 500 words*
  • Paragraphs should contain less than 40 words
  • Sentences should be as short as possible
  • Use lots of sub-headings
  • Get someone to proof read your content with the aim of slashing 1/3rd of the content
  • No-one wants introductions. Pile in immediately, if your content requires context, provide it as you go along
  • Provide links onwards to expand on points
  • Think about what folks will search for, and provide those words in the content
  • It must be readable on a mobile device
  • … less really is more

* Tension exists between the need for readability and the that of search engine content. Some commentators are even discussing a 100 word maximum.

By Martin Dower

I’m the head of a digital agency, and have been writing copy for more years than I care to remember, and reading it for a good deal longer. These are my opinions, though. Feel free to disagree.