How to Write Copy for Those Who Only Skim
But take heart. I encourage you to accept the challenge of learning how to attract more readership. Start by using these tools-of-the-trade to write scanner-friendly print ads, emails, direct mail, twitter posts, Web pages and other digital content.
• Punctuation is your BFF. Use it to direct eye traffic, add emphasis to your words, build momentum, break up long sentences, snag attention and more. Scanners look for periods, commas, colons, ellipses, parentheses, em-dashes, etc. to help them skim, digest and decide whether to dig deeper. Use your punctuation pals to deepen engagement. (Can you tell I'm a patron of punctuation?)
• Be cautious with capitalization. Initial upper case letters (Pet Waste Bags vs. pet waste bags) imply importance or a proper name versus a generic term. The eye lands on them, then tries to figure out why the words are capitalized. Use caps ubiquitously and you'll cause confusion that disengages your scanner.
• Related, but different: STRING TOGETHER TOO MANY WORDS IN ALL UPPER CASE LETTERS and your message is difficult to scan and read. In digital-speak, you're shouting and too much noise drowns out your message.
• Make essential information easy to find. This includes important little details such as date, time, location and cost. It's seriously annoying to be interested in attending an event and not be able to find when and where it's taking place. (Likewise, product details matter. Yesterday I was interested in buying a bracelet online and all I saw was a stamp-sized photo and price. What was it made of? Did it have a clasp or was it elastic? I tried clicking on both photo and price to no avail. Ouch! Lost sale.)
• Copy and paste with care. I recently visited an event website that featured the same bio for two speakers. Oooops! Which brings me to this: Have someone else proofread what you write. As writers we often see what we want to see ... not what our readers see.
• Make the same point from different directions. Sure, use your words. But consider adding a graph, comparison chart, photo, testimonial, statistic and/or video to support your message. You never know which will catch a non-reader's eye.
• Capture interest with captions under photos. Scanners are drawn to images, then they want to know the story behind what they see. Use this hot spot to encourage people to spend more time reading.
• Speaking of hot spots...everything you write has them. But these valuable eye magnets are often ignored by writers. Learn more about them here (see No. 8).
• Numerals jump off the page; numbers as words get lost in the crowd. Twitter fans also know numerals use fewer characters. Example: 257 vs. two hundred fifty-seven.
• Edit for engagement. Unlike a novelist, you've got just seconds to snag your reader's attention. Try these tweaking (aka editing) tips to make your copy/content more engaging and effective.
• Button up. Test CTA copy to know which words work best on buttons. Then make sure your buttons stand out using color, size and shape. You never know when a scanner will be ready to click so test placement, too.
• Long sentences and long paragraphs are...long. And difficult to scan, as well as read. Transform long ones into smaller bite-size pieces. It's a simple edit.
• Interrupt eye flow. Use violators (aka snipes) to draw attention to important message points. While traditional bursts and banners still work, no one says you and your designer can't create your own.
Interested in learning more? Get 12 bonus tips for taking your copy/content to the next level.