Your readers’ brains are in survival mode—surrounded by a culture where short formats are the norm and content is coming at them from every corner—overflowing Google Readers, text alerts, email to check, streams of updates on Twitter and Facebook in the corners of their screens, and the ever-bouncing IM.
Information foraging theory
In order to survive, readers have turned into foragers—foragers of information. As they interact on the Web, they’re constantly assessing the cost/benefit of energy expended (clicking on a link) vs. potential nutrition (finding something yummy). You can lead them deeper into your content with a strong information scent, otherwise known as—forgive us the jargon—nanocontent.
Headlines, subheads, page titles, navigation, links, and callouts are all nanocontent. Those short bits of content (often just 2-3 words) give your foraging friends a good indication of the food they’ll find if they explore further. Here are some tips:
- Use descriptive, plain language
- Call a spade a spade, not an “excavation solution”
- Skip the leading articles “the” and “a”
- Make the first two to three words count
- Make sure it’s predictive, using common and specific terms
Making the first two-three words count:
- iPhone Voicemail Instructions vs. Instructions for iPhone Voicemail
- New CMS solution from Company X vs. Introducing Company X’s new CMS solution”
More is less…except when I want more
What we know: the shorter the copy, the more likely it will get read. On the average web page, users have time to only read 28% of the words.
What we also know: At some point brevity translates into generalization and, yes, plain stupidity.
So what’s a content developer to do? Write “As little as possible. As much as necessary.” How much is necessary will depend on the:
Type of page
- Top level page vs. interior: Are they scanning to find where they need to go or are they deep in your site and want to learn?
Type of task
- Informational vs. transactional: Are they here to get informed or are they here to get something accomplished in the most efficient way?
Type of user
- Forager vs. learner: Are they foraging for information scents or are they enjoying a good meal?
Stay tuned for our next Content Writing Basic Survival Skills segment: “Just say it.”