How To Write for Skimmers and Visualize the Text

We Don’t Read Left to Right on the Internet

For much of reading’s history in the Western world, our eyes read from left to right. Books, magazines, newspapers, etc. Left-to-right reading no longer applies to the internet’s multimedia landscape, which changes the direction our eyes are attracted to.

New theories were developed to explain how we read but have recently been dismantled. The most popular and widely embraced by was the Google Golden Triangle. Used with Google’s search engine, the Golden Triangle theory showed that collectively, eyes scanned for information. The sum of those forms a triangle for useful results.

The Golden Triangle theory is very flawed. Collectively, all of our eyes form a golden triangle. Individually, our eye scanning trajectory is affected when there are images. The “F-shaped” pattern—which describes how the eye scans information in the shape of an “F”— was also widely accepted before being discredited for the same reasons. Namely, that once multimedia is introduced, eye scanning changes for individuals.

Why Does This Matter? To Compete, You Need to Write for Skimmers

How long do people spend on a website before abandoning ship? 15 seconds. At most. And in that short amount of time, they might not even scroll down unless, something catches their eye. That’s why publishers like The Daily Mail, BBC and Buzzfeed often place summarizing bullet points at the top of the article. They are writing for skimmers. You need to, too.

The number one rule to writing for skimmers is to visualize the text. The more you can break up content visually, the better according to this New Yorker article. That’s why sometimes you’ll see randomly bolded keyword phrases. Here’s how you can do that.

Subheadings Are Your New Best Friends

Subheadings are instrumental in organizing content for skimmers. It’s easier to find relevant information that is categorized. Always state the main point of every subheading in the first paragraph and then elaborate. Think of it as writing the old-fashioned inverted pyramid method.

Bonus points if you can inform the gist of your content through bolded headlines alone.

Remember to Layout Content Carefully

For your content to be seen, it must be placed strategically above the fold. That might be in the form of a slideshow, a string of bullet points or a data chart—whatever you choose to be above the fold, it must be your most valuable content.

But what about everything else? Think of your content with the layout design in mind. Where will images, charts, interactive media, etc. go so they will be noticed? How does this work with your bullet points, bolded phrases and subheadings? Is your web design accommodating to these skimmer techniques? If not, it may be time for an update or overhaul.

Write For Skimmers and Continue Best Publishing Practices

Write concise, short paragraphs or chunks of text. We recommend using the Hemingway App editor, which evaluates how clear your writing is, in order to edit effectively.

  • Employ bullet points in the article.
  • Use bold text for key points. It breaks up the text.
  • Stick to three or four bullet points.
  • Link-text describes where the link will take you.

Of course, you need to write for skimmers, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use other best publishing practices. A common and successful trend is to promote evergreen content at the bottom of the page to encourage readers—and skimmers—to stay on the site.

The writer and publisher are responsible for making their content easy to read. If you are a writer or publisher, you’ll want people to read and stay on the site as long as possible.

10 Ways To Help Your Content Succeed

By Emily E. Steck

Publishing is half creating and half marketing. You'll need a plan to execute them both. Here are 10 ways to help your content succeed.

  • Get Your Content Out On The Internet (And Read)

    By Emily E. Steck

    Scouring for images can take time, perfecting the written word even more time. Use your social networks, your friends, your resources. (Sacrifice your first born. Just kidding.).    

  • Set Goals

    By Emily E. Steck

    What do you want to accomplish? Gain 100 new social media followers? Increased time spent on site? More content? Set goals to help clarify the time put into making your content awesome.

  • Strategize These Goals

    By Emily E. Steck

    Plan a flexible strategy to make these goals, but leave room to accommodate for what works and what doesn't work. Have an [editorial calendar]( Kill your marketing darlings, so to speak.

  • Take Risks

    By Emily E. Steck

    Mention famous bloggers, people, organizations in your social media promotion. Use confident language in your promotion and content. Seek out your competitors and befriend them. Be bold.

  • What's Trending?

    By Emily E. Steck

    You cannot predict what will be trending on social media except for those planned events around your related industry. Sports blog? You have game schedules. Plan content to backlog for these events.

  • Niche Is In

    By Emily E. Steck

    The internet is a vast place with vast interests. [Scuba diving?](http://http// [Living in Vancouver?](http://http// Target these niche communities by writing content that caters to their interests and posting to subthreads.

  • Engage & Connect With Community

    By Emily E. Steck

    This could be through subthreads in Reddit, Twitter, Facebook about similar content you publish. Don't always link back to your own stuff in these convos, but link when it is organic.  

  • Write for Skimmers (and Your Audience)

    By Emily E. Steck

    People skim more than they read. Make sure to write for them this way. Use lists, bold text and subheadings to break up content. Oh, and right about what they are interested in.

  • Develop Your Voice & Brand

    By Emily E. Steck

    How you approach stories and articles is just as important as the content in them. As a content creator, you need to develop an original voice that sets you apart from the pack. This is your brand. 

  • Check In With Your Audience

    By Emily E. Steck

    You can't just rely on analytics. Pose a question on social media asking your followers what kind of content they love to see on your site. Check the comments and chime in. Understand your audience.

Image Credit: Jeshu John via Designer Pics

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