Only 20% of people will read your content in full. This is the statistic proven time and time again on the web. So our content needs writing as if the reader will drop out at any point.
So what are the other 80% doing? Common excuses are:
- I only read the headline or first couple of sentences
- I scan the content for key pieces of information
- I skip parts that don't interest me
If only one in five are reading everything we write, then can we save ourselves some effort and write less? We could, but we'd selling long readers short.
Some people are looking for more information than others, and we need to cater to them too. Most subjects will warrant at least 250 words. Anything shorter and we risk not helping the reader.
It turns out this isn't only a web problem. Newspapers have been dealing with this for a long time through the "inverted pyramid". The pyramid splits our content into three parts:
Each is longer and more detailed than the last. The idea is people could read the summary and leave with the important information. If they read on they will get more detail or background knowledge on the subject. We'll go into these in a bit more depth:
Part 1: Summary
Start with 30 - 50 words, which we are guaranteed people are going to read. This is "lead up front" writing, so it's not a teaser or introduction. It's all the vital information, condensed.
This will generally show on search engine result pages too, underneath the title. Ask yourself the following:
- Can we get it down to 160 characters to avoid clipping?
- Could we go further and fit this in a short tweet?
- Would we be happy posting a link to the article alongside this text?
Part 2: Details
Now starts the bulk of the content. How long this is going to be depends on the subject, but we should aim for at least 200 words. Any less and we should consider merging with other content.
We're not afraid to repeat ourselves in this section. It reinforces our point to the readers and the search engines. But we need to make sure that we're adding value to the summary.
The summary is short enough for us not to worry about formatting. In our content we need to provide structure here in the form of headings, lists, and quotes. Link to relevant external web pages, too.
Part 3: Background
At this point, we're down to 30% or so of our initial audience. If they're still reading, one of two things has happened:
- We've captured their attention and they want to read more on the subject.
- We've not answered their query and they're still searching for an answer.
We're going to solve both of these in this section by branching out. The former may find something of interest in this background information. The latter may have their question answered by a related area.
Headings are important here, so readers can scan. There's no necessary information left and they'll start to "magazine read". Links are also important. The answer to their question may lie on another page.