I’ve only used a gun on one occasion – the results were catastrophic.
That sentence has nothing to do with this article, its only purpose was to get your attention. And that second sentence’s job was to keep you interested.
Once I have got you to read the headline, I have maybe 2 to 3 seconds to get you to hang around and read the rest of this article.
This is the way of the internet. In his book Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug advises us to reduce “noise” on web pages. With less distractions visitors understand the site, feel smarter, and are more likely to return.
And recent experiments at Columbia University show people have poor recall of facts that are available on computers (but enhanced recall of where they are stored). Computers and the internet are changing the nature of our memory and the way we think. And online, at least, we have a shorter attention span.
What does all this mean to you? In a web of trillions of pages and a complex life full of “noise” you need to get yourself heard. So here are some content, usability and life tips to get you started:
Add impact and decrease noise
With everything (not just websites but with emails, documents, presentations, your desk) decrease clutter. Go through your sidebars and headers and ask yourself what is really necessary.
When writing emails to clients reduce everything down to what they need to know. Don’t tell them how hard the job was, tell them you’ve done it.
De-clutter your writing. Do not use a 5-word sentence when a 4-word sentence will do.
Make sure you are creating content that the visitor needs
We all know that the content is all important. But if you’ve been publishing for a while and no-one seems to be listening, you may need to present the content in terms of its usefulness to the user.
Try to establish an emotional need in the visitor for the material you are offering.
Spark curiosity, point out benefits and emphasise the uniqueness of your content.
Try to maintain consistent color schemes in your websites. Use the same color for headlines, the same color for subheads, the same color for links (and make sure they always have a different hover state).
Be consistent in everything you do online. Always maintain the same tone, same avatar, same attention to spelling and grammar (whilst always keeping an open mind about your goals and how to achieve them.)
Blog, comment and tweet consistently. This is more important than quantity. If you can’t maintain the quality, drop the frequency, but make sure you do everything well and consistently. Who would you want to work with, someone who bursts on the scene with a flurry of activity or someone who’s been doing great work for a period of time?
Visualise and illustrate
Glance at the example below. Is it better to present the options with text or buttons? Which will the user react to faster?
Apply this principle elsewhere. Don’t make notes for yourself make mind maps with lines, arrows and circles to represent the relationship between the elements. Illustrate web how-to’s with screenshots.
Divide information down into bite-sized chunks
When writing long documents it has always been important to order the information logically. Online these information chunks need to be visually differentiated.
Reading a European novella on holiday is one thing, combing the internet for information is quite another. Consider the reader when you are presenting text. If your information competes favorably against distractions your visitors will reward you with loyalty.
Simple vs Epic – Simplicity does not mean “dumbing down”
I’m a huge fan of Corbett Barr from Think Traffic. Corbett’s USP is to concentrate on creating great content rather than relying on the latest SEO or SM trick to increase interest in your site. Corbett will encourage you to write epic sh*t – which means to inspire people, change lives and blow people away with your usefulness.
There does seem to be a movement towards creating longer blog posts. For example, another favorite blogger of mine, Glen Allsopp went over the 5,000 word mark with a post on improving conversions. However, if you scan through the post you will see that no paragraphs are longer than 5 lines and the article is continually broken up by images, video, subheads and sub-subheads.
But, epic doesn’t have to mean long. One of the most successful bloggers out there, Seth Godin, usually only writes 200-300 word articles.
Test and experiment
Don’t just imagine what people want – test. There are a number of free tools that can help you do this.
- Google Analytics – Use it to see what your visitors that stay the longest are searching for, what are the most popular pages, which are the most popular paths towards your goals
- Google Website Optimizer – A/B test squeeze pages and sales pages
- Email subject lines – A/B test emails with different subject lines to see which is the phrase your subscribers preferred to open and click on
- Email different posts – Send emails with a few links and see which link is most clicked on
- Try different sidebars and headers – Write a resource page giving away your best information with links your best articles. Add a very visible link to it on your website and see if it’s popular. Change the wording of the link a few weeks later and see which is the most popular way of wording what you do best.
- Google Keyword Research Tool – discover what words are being searched for in your niche
- Use the Redirection plugin for WordPress to test which positions of which links do best
- Use ClickTale and UserFly to evaluate the user experience
This is all about
These areas: creating content, imagery, impact, consistency and the ability to test, are ones I’m constantly trying to improve in my online business. I know I just skimmed the surface as to how to do this. But I hope these reminders were as useful to you as they are to me.
I really need to run the credits for this article. Thanks for the inspiration to the two bloggers mentioned in this article: Corbett Barr and Glen Allsopp. I have also been receiving some great advice from Chris Kahler from BloggerITUS.
Further thanks go to my new Google+ friends who contributed to a great discussion on this subject and provided a lot of the ideas here. Apologies if there’s anyone who can’t follow that link but you can always contact me if you want an invite.
And, as always, I’m interested to hear what you think about your ideas of what to focus on as you create better content for your users and better experiences for your clients.
(PS. I’ve never really used a gun before – that was creative license!)
Chris Kahler @ BloggerITUS says
Nicely done Rob!
You’ve made extremely valid points. I’ve done a bit of research into this area and come across a few other resources outside of what you’ve provided here that explain some of the same things.
One author, Nicholas Carr, wrote a book called “The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains” that dives into these points. Part of what he addresses has to do with attention and concentration.
People are holding concentration in longer forms less and less than we once did before. I came across that book a while back and since then I’ve been making it a point to read for at least an hour a day in pure concentrated form just so I don’t loose my thinking power! lol
But you hit the nail on the head. Writing epic doesn’t necessarily mean length, it means value. Blowing reader’s minds with usefulness. That’s my goal as well… I have yet to see a case where someone that wrote epic sh*t didn’t mount to something extraordinary… of course if someone did write awesome stuff and failed to succeed I guess no one would know about it lol.
Great post, and thanks for including my name among such respectable company! That was a nice surprise to start work with 😀
Chris Kahler @ BloggerITUS says
That last take care was an accident : /
Rob Cubbon says
Hey Chris, you can say “take care” as many times as you want! Thanks for the heads up about that Nicolas Carr book, I’d never heard of that so it’s gone into my wish list.
I’m glad you thought I made some valid points but, as I’ve said, I benefited greatly from advise I’d received from others.
I’m trying to write epic, too! 🙂
Danny Tecknare says
Wow great stuff. In this post you do as you preach – providing awesome content with value for the visitors. I’ll bookmark the site to see if you’ve got more gems like these. Thanks.
Rob Cubbon says
Thank you, Danny, I do my best 🙂
Lauren Fisher says
Good read, and I agree with most of the points. I think what I’d add in is ‘commentary’. There are lots of blogs that reproduce press releases without much additional information than you could get on the major news sites that have covered it. What we react to and seek, are the sites that add interpretation and look beyond the facts. It’s always these posts that grab my attention more, particularly on new sites that I visit.
Rob Cubbon says
That’s a good point, Lauren, one way to create original and compelling content is to offer your opinion on a news piece that is different in some way. Thanks for the comment.
Lesley from lesley writes says
These are excellent points – websites which are clear and uncluttered make more impact. Content which is written clearly and concisely is more useful and can be read more quickly.
What I find irritating in a great deal of content is that people are always telling us what we need to do, but rarely telling us how we need to do it, yet that is usually what we need to know.
Rob Cubbon says
I think it’s the holy grail of content marketing/website creation, Lesley. The basic question “what should I write” is what I think about all day and is the most important thing. Thanks for the comment 🙂
Rob , I found this page by searching on “gun use catastrophic results”! Not really. I saw your tiny “P.S.” at the end.
The terrific layout in this article that lets the eye scan the whole article got me reading the whole thing. You are gifted.
Actually, I was digging through your site looking for your recommended sources for free photos. Think that may be in your free eBook. My computer got fried in a power outage and still haven’t retrieved the info on my hard drive. May have to download your eBook again — I’m certainly not giving that up!
Rob Cubbon says
Thank you, my friend, I’m glad you found this post useful. If you need the free eBook again just drop me a line and I’ll send it to you. You may not be allowed to download it again as you’re already on the mailing list and you can’t join it twice!