Humans encounter thousands of words every day. As a website owner, that means your site content is vying for your user’s attention alongside emails from their colleagues, the novel on their nightstand, and even the permission slip scrunched at the bottom of their kid’s backpack.
How do you cut through the clutter to create site content that people actually want to read?
While you may already be choosing topics that are the most interesting and relevant for your audience, the structure of your writing may not be optimized for how people read. By understanding your audience’s reading behaviors following best practices for readability and accessibility, you can make sure your content works with people’s natural tendencies – not against them – to create a more engaging digital experience. An added bonus: Google shares many of those same tendencies, so content that’s designed well for humans is also more likely to perform well for organic SEO.
As a digital platform partner to many clients with content-rich sites, Oomph often works with brands to redesign their content for digital success. Here’s a look at the basic principles we apply to any site design – and how you can use them to your advantage.
How People Read Online
When we dive into a book, we typically settle in for a long haul, ready to soak up each chapter one by one. But when we open up a website, it's more like scanning a newspaper or the entire bookshelf – we're looking for something specific to catch our eye. We quickly scan, looking for anything that jumps out at us. If we see something interesting, then we'll slow down and start reading in more detail.
Think of it like an animal following an information “scent,” identifying a mixture of clues that are likely to lead to the content you’re looking for. Most people will decide which pages to visit based on how likely the page will have the answer they’re looking for and how long it’s going to take to get the answer.
Users need to be hooked within a few moments of looking at a website or they’ll move on. They need to be able to identify and understand key factors like:
- The point of the information and why they should keep reading
- Whether they can trust the information and the source
- The type of content provided and any action expected from them, like signing up for an event
- How visually engaging and readable the content is
The takeaway for brands? Writing with your readers’ needs in mind is a way to show them you care and want to help them solve their problem. It’s also the key to achieving your site goals.
Your site content does more than just convey information – it's about building trust, establishing rapport, and creating a connection that goes beyond the page. Whether you're trying to sell a product or promote a cause, crafting content around your audience’s needs, desires, and preferences is the most effective way to compel them to take action. Here are four ways to set your website content up for success.
1. Put your data to work.
If you’re looking to refresh your current site, data can help you make informed choices about everything from your content strategy to your layout and design. Use digital reporting tools to answer questions like:
- Is our target audience visiting our site – and are other audiences visiting that we don’t know about yet?
- Which content do visitors download or engage with most frequently?
- What does a typical site visit look like? Are there places where users are getting stuck or bouncing off?
Google Analytics is a go-to tool for understanding the basics of who is visiting your site and how they're engaging with your content. You can track metrics like session duration, traffic sources, and top-performing pages, all of which can help you better understand what your audience is looking for and what you want to tell them. (If you haven’t made the switch to Google Analytics’ latest platform, GA4, jump-start the process with our 12-step migration guide.)
Additional tools like Screaming Frog and Hotjar can give you even deeper insights, helping you track content structure and real-time user interactions.
2. Create a simple and consistent content structure.
When it comes to site content, consistency is like the foundation of a house (minus the power tools and hard hats).
A well-structured site not only helps users navigate and understand your content more easily, but also enhances the visual appeal and flow of the site. Think of it like a dance floor – you want your users to be able to move smoothly from one section to the next, without any awkward missteps.
That means focusing on shorter sentences, bullet points, and clear subheadings, all backed up by engaging visuals that serve as resting points for the eye. And while you're at it, don't forget to declutter your content — users don't want to wade through a sea of unnecessary words just to find the nuggets of gold.
Ask yourself: Does this content flow smoothly, is it easy to scan, and does it make my key messages stand out? If the answer is yes, then you're on your way to successful content.
3. Make sure visuals and content play nicely together.
When it comes to enhancing your content with visuals, the key is to strike a balance between style and substance. Your design should complement your content, not compete or distract from it.
Beyond their aesthetic appeal, well-designed visuals are important for creating a sense of credibility with users. Think back to the concept of information scent: If your design looks sloppy or inconsistent, users are less likely to trust the information you're presenting. So make sure you're using design elements wisely, creating ample white space, and avoiding anything that makes your content feel like a sales pitch.
4. Focus on accessibility.
When it comes to site content, accessibility can't be ignored. Content should be engaging and informative and also conform to the , Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Tools like SortSite can help identify these issues and guide you toward accessibility success.
There are a number of things all sites need to consider:
- Using consistent text stylings, including text color, leading, kerning, and tracking.
- Design to support individuals with visual impairments, assistive technology like screen readers, and those that require navigation via the keyboard only
- Following heading orders and grouping content together to make it easier to scan. For example: Following a heading level 2 with a heading level 3 when the ideas are related, but starting with a new heading 2 if changing to a new section of thought.
- Using multiple methods to indicate action items and descriptive text for buttons and alternative text.
- PDFs can be useful, but are also big accessibility red flags, so it’s best to avoid using them when possible. If a PDF is a must, make sure it follows accessibility best practices.
Designing Engaging Content Doesn’t Need To Be a Full-Time Job
If you already have a library of content, auditing the content that already exists can be daunting. And sometimes, you need a little help from your friends. That's where third-party experts (like us!) come in.
During our website discovery process, we use strategies like content and analytics audits, UX heuristics, and user journey mapping to help position client sites for success. We'll help you identify areas for improvement, highlight opportunities for growth, and guide you toward achieving content greatness.
Ready for a fresh perspective on your content? We’d love to talk about it.