Feeling ignored? 7 tips to make your copy more readable

22 Jul

This isn’t about nailing a sheet of writing to the forehead of your target audience – it’s about understanding how people read on the web so that you can lay out your copy to make sure your words aren’t ignored – this is called readability.

Why is readability important?

Whether on the web, in brochures, sales letters, newsletters and reports or really anything you want people to read, the way you lay out your copy has an effect on whether your words will actually be read. 

After all, you’ll have put some time and effort into constructing some killer copy.  You may even have all your keywords in your web copy to be found in the search engines.  But if someone is faced with a wall of text they’re likely to groan and leave.  If you’ve got a great sales pitch, want to impart important or interesting information or whatever you want to achieve with the words on your website, it will have little effect if no one reads them.

How do people read on the web?

The short answer is they don’t.  Some people will read every word, but the majority of people in readability tests scan the page.  They look for words that get their interest or relate in some way to what they are looking for.  People are usually looking for fast results, and really only need to get the gist.

What does this mean for your web copy?

Knowing that people scan web pages, here are some quick tips to laying out your copy so that you’re less likely to stop people from reading on:

1. Use headlines to capture attention.

  • Make them distinct from the main text by increasing the font size so it’s larger than the main body of the text
  • Its position should be about a third of the way down the page to meet the eye line
  • Don’t capitalise you headline or place a caplital at the beginning of each word (unless it’s a proper noun) – it stops people from reading fluently and reduces the impact of its meaning.

Headlines is a big subject which will be covered in more detail in later blogs.

2. Break up long text using sub headings so people can jump to what they need to know.

3. Highlight important words in bold or italic. When people scan the page, these words will stand out and tell your reader quickly what the copy is generally about. Also great for SEO.

4. Use bulleted lists – everyone loves a tidy list of bullet points. It quickly imparts information without the added detail, organises key points on the page and is much easier for your reader to digest. Imagine if I had placed all these tips in one long block of text. Would you have read this far?

5. Place copy to the left of picturesAs people scan images from top to bottom, words on the right can be ignored.  Yes, I know I have placed an image on the left, but it’s pointing to the text and as a general rule it should be on the right.

6. Don’t write too much . Web pages are generally no more than 250 words for a normal page depending on how much information your reader needs to know. You only need to write enough to get the message across or people will stop reading.

7. Don’t use justified or centred text.

Justified text is like a newspaper column. It tends to stretch out words to fit the space and adds a hyphen (-) where it splits a word in two as it runs into the next line so it fits the text area.

Centred text is difficult to read. The next line is indented and looks a bit like this. Your reader will have to look for the beginning of the sentence every time they move down a line. People often use it because they think it livens up the look of the page or makes it easier to read the copy, but it actually has the opposite effect.

 Keep your copy left-aligned.

Lamb’s final thought

Although I have written about web copy layout for readability, it really does apply to anything you have written copy for. If you have a sales letter with lots of blocky text, a brochure, for example, with no highlighted words or quotes, a report without subsections, it all prevents people from wanting to read on.

2 Responses to “Feeling ignored? 7 tips to make your copy more readable”

  1. Dave Mackintosh at 9:22 am #

    You should have a look at the F reading pattern research, brilliant for laying content out on a website.

    • The Lamb at 2:00 pm #

      Yes I’ve seen this, thanks Dave. The F scan and how we scan images from top to bottom. I considered including it in my blog but I didn’t want to get too deep at the moment, but just laying out the basics – saving that one for later!

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