People don’t digest online content the way they read paperback novels on the beach. They absorb it the way they read billboards while doing 75 down the interstate — they can only spare a few seconds to decide if what they’re reading is worth pulling over for. Most of the time, it’s not.
In other words, there is just too much content and not enough time to read it all. People are forced to be very selective about which of the 5,000 marketing messages per day they engage with and which ones they ignore.
Of course there are endless strategies for helping your content stick out to your audience, from aligning your sales and marketing team to utilizing niche social platforms to target specific personas. Employing these strategies is a crucial component of your content marketing strategy.
But no matter what strategies you’re using to expose your content, if you don’t make it easily readable, consumers will pass over it.
What Makes Content Unreadable?
What is it about certain pieces of content that make them so instantly unreadable? There’s a good chance it’s one of the common elements of “unreadable content” we’ve laid out below — all of which you should avoid in your content marketing strategy.
The content’s purpose is ambiguous.
Online content is not the place to be coy or mysterious. That might be an endearing tactic in fiction novels or an M. Night Shyamalan film, but this is content marketing. Your readers need to know up front whether what you’re offering is worth their valuable time or they won’t bite. By revealing the value of your content with a clear and gripping lead and avoiding jargon-free language, people will be more compelled to spend time reading beyond the first paragraph.
It’s not meaningful or original.
Before committing to producing a piece of content, ask yourself:
- How many times has this topic been written about?
- Am I saying anything new?
- Why should my audience care?
Think about good content like a product in and of itself. If you want someone to “buy” it, then it must have a value the buyer can’t find anywhere else. It must inform, entertain, and educate the reader. Nobody reads 1,400 words just to kill time just like no one buys things just to burn cash.
The UX is outdated or, even worse, it’s misleading.
Keeping your website modern is as important as the content within it. If your audience has to spend time learning how to navigate the front end of your website (especially if it’s unresponsive or the design is outdated) they likely won’t stick around. An accessible website translates into accessible content.
Accessibility also means honesty. You’re looking for real leads and conversions, but some UX trends drive traffic away rather than capture authentic interest. Three trends to avoid are:
- Multi-page articles. Dividing an article into 15 separate pages creates a lot of unnecessary work for readers. Every time they’re forced to click “Next” to keep reading is an opportunity to abandon the article entirely — no matter how great of a story it is.
- Dark UX patterns. Intentionally manipulative UX strategies won’t be appreciated by savvy readers. If they don’t trust your website, they won’t stay on it long.
- Disruptive pop-ups. There’s a time and place for asking your reader to subscribe to your newsletter, and it isn’t the moment they open your article. This tactic can be considered intrusive or annoying, and can increase the bounce rate on your site.
It’s too salesy and not human enough.
You wouldn’t start off a first date by asking for a second date. In the same way, your readers need to get to know you before committing to spending more of their precious time with you.
The key to building customer trust is to appeal to your readers’ humanity. Let them know there’s an actual person on the other end who stands by what was written. This can be done by conveying a strong sense of the author’s voice, presence, and personality in every piece. Having an author byline or bio in plain sight is helpful too.
It’s a chore to read.
Nothing says “homework” like scrolling through blocks of black text. Offer your reader’s eyes some relief by breaking up your content with:
- Visuals and infographics
- Ordered lists and bullet points
- Internal links to related content
At the other end of this spectrum is when content is so broken up that it creates a “Where’s Waldo” for your audience. If your reader’s eyes don’t immediately know where to focus, they’re missing out on the value your piece offers.
Want to create readable content your audience will engage with? Contact us to learn more.