Forget Reading! Web Content Is Meant To Be Skimmed
There are a lot of different schools of thought on how to develop website content that is “just right” for search engines and customers alike. Everyone has his or her own idea of what the perfect amount of content is. Unfortunately, we still hear people saying that any content is too much!
The argument goes something like this: “People don’t read, they just look at the pretty pretty pictures.” This is both true and false. Many people don’t read content, but they are just a fraction of your audience. Another fraction skims the content, and still another fraction will read every word on the page.
So, which audience are you going to disenfranchise with (or without) your content?
Fortunately, you don’t have to disenfranchise any. You can create content that is meant to be read, ignored or even half read/half ignored (a.k.a., skimmed).
When you create content designed to be skimmed, you’ll find that you are, essentially, providing content for each type of audience. It can be read, ignored or quickly reviewed by the reader looking for the nuggets of information that are most important to them.
Let’s look at these three types of readers and how skimmable content is good for them each.
Content? I Won’t Read Your Stinking Content!
Non-readers don’t have much use for lengthy text. Small bits of content are fine (such as short product descriptions, photo captions or twitterbites), but they really don’t need or want the whole multi-paragraph-learn-all-about-how-great-our-stuff-is sales spiel.
Non-readers generally navigate by looking at pictures and links until they find what they are looking for. Essentially, these are cover-art shoppers. Your pictures speak more for them than your words. In fact, for non-readers, words tend to get in the way.
But that doesn’t mean you should eliminate all content from your website. As long as the content is non-obtrusive and doesn’t hinder the non-reader’s search and navigation experience, they can blow right past it and get right to what they came for.
It’s Elementary, My Dear Reader
Then there are the readers who are likely to read almost every word on the page. These types are information gluttons. They want to know about the product, need to be sold on its virtues and must be convinced they are making the right decision about their purchase. And, your content is the way all that gets done.
To a reader, all information is generally good information. The more they know about the product, your company and anything else that increases your credibility will help them feel secure in doing business with you instead of a competitor.
Text is an important part of the reader’s decision-making process. From the homepage to categories and sub-categories to the actual product page, the reader is intensely interested in what you have to say, as it will be the determining factor in whether you get a conversion or not.
Skimming Is What I Do, Darlin’
Skimmers don’t really read the content on each page, but they do scan through it in order to find quick visual cues that will help them get the information they want. When they see something that appeals to them, they’ll stop and read more thoroughly or click a link to get to the content that does interest them.
Content written for skimmers helps all visitors get a sense of what you’re saying without requiring them to read every word. In fact, skimmable content is better for both the reader and non-reader because skimmed content is easier to read and/or ignore. Essentially, it enhances the page for readers and doesn’t get in the way of non-readers.
Since skimmable content is easier on the eyes and makes important nuggets of information eye-catching, the non-reader will find it nearly irresistible. This allows them to “inadvertently” take in important information that gives them a better impression of your product.
For the reader, skimmable content is even easier to read, making important points obvious and ensuring that the reader factors their importance into the decision-making process.
For all readers, skimmable content helps visitors see what’s important and even highlights key navigational elements that otherwise might have been missed or overlooked if not implemented in a skimmer-friendly way.
All Content Should Be Skimmable Content
It’s not too difficult to take good content and make it more skimmable (aka better). Here are some important points for making content skimmable:
- Place your content where it will be noticed but is not obtrusive. You might have to break it up a bit. The longer the content is, the more careful you have to be about where and how you place the content on the page. This is especially true when dealing with product category pages.
- Start each paragraph with your most important and compelling verbiage. Many skimmers look only at the first line of each paragraph. Make it count.
- Use paragraph/section headings that draw interest but are also quick to read at a glance. If it’s too long, it gets lost in the word-salad.
- Use bulleted lists when possible, as this breaks up the monotony of the content and creates easy-to-digest chunks.
- Bold or italicize key concepts throughout. Don’t go overboard, but use this to draw they eye to anything you think really needs to stand out.
- Add images to your content. Even though images don’t get read, the do draw the eye and make the content more likely to be seen, skimmed and read.
Writing for skimmers is really about good writing practices and formatting your content in a visually appealing way. Just as good content is a valuable part of the SEO process, skimmable content is a valuable part of the sales process.
Good website marketing isn’t about building a site for any one type of visitor, it’s about building a site that speaks to as many different visitor types as possible without alienating any. You must have the right pieces in the right places in the right way. Skimmable content allows you to target all types of readers and give them even more than they want. That way, everyone has a positive experience.
Image credit: frenta / 123RF Stock Photo.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)
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