It’s the rallying cry of content marketers and digital entrepreneurs the world over.
And it’s 100% true. Content truly is king.
The quality of your content could be the difference between establishing yourself as an authority in your niche or destroying your reputation with poorly sourced, unhelpful and altogether useless content.
While I can’t argue the fact that content truly is king, this overused, clichéd phrase overlooks one other very important aspect of content marketing.
How you present your killer content.
Look, let’s be honest for a second. First impressions count for a lot.
Even if you create the most incredibly useful and helpful article in the world, if it looks terrible then people won’t give it a chance. Especially as the modern consumer has an incredibly low attention span.
Those first 8.25 seconds are the most important of any marketing effort. It’s why copywriters spend so long optimizing their headlines and openings of articles to hook attention and draw the reader in.
And right now, that initial impression is more important than anything else.
Thanks to an increase in competition, your content being useful isn’t going to be enough. You need to optimize everything on page so that your users aren’t just getting a helpful piece of content, but are also receiving a visually optimized piece that allows them to quickly and easily discern the key takeaways.
Great content isn’t just about delivering a useful message. It’s about delivering it in a visually appealing package that makes it easy for your readers to grasp the key points you’re putting across.
YES, IT IS.
Your content’s presentation is one of the key factors in its success.
You remember those old-school websites where there’s little to differentiate headers, sub headers or body text and there were no images, right? Well, how do you know which parts of those pages were important?
Could you, in 8.25 seconds, pick out the key pieces of information? No. You’d get fed up of looking and bounce before you’d even given it a fair chance.
The big issue you need to address is that of visual hierarchy. When everything looks equally important, then nothing is. Which is a great way to turn people off your content.
The addition of even a little typographic styling, some images and a clear, concise formatting makes a huge difference. It makes your content more visually appealing. It might sound like a small issue, but when 65% of the population are visual learners, it could be the difference between a viral hit and a handful of views.
Modern readers are impatient. They don’t want to spend an age trawling through thousands of words in an effort to discern one key takeaway. They’ll skim your content. And when they skim, they’ll follow the visual cues you’ve created. If you haven’t created any, then reading the article will seem too much like hard work.
Images and a solid visual hierarchy will help in both highlighting key points and transmitting your key takeaways to your readers’ brain. Images mixed in with text have a higher chance of getting through to the modern reader.
The question you need to ask yourself is how can you make your content more visually appealing and easy to skim while getting your message across?
Capturing your audience’s attention is 80% of the battle in modern content marketing, and images play a key role in hooking attention.
Which tweet stands out more and commands your attention?
Your images don’t need to be amazing. They just need to quickly show the reader what it is the content will help them with.
Once you’ve caught the reader’s attention, you can start to really build their interest and more fully engage them in your content.
According to HubSpot, research shows that people retain only 10% of information they hear. But when the information is paired with a relevant image, they recall 65% of it up to three days later. A 50% uptick in memory recall is a huge benefit and really shows the benefit of using images in your copy.
However, you can’t just jump straight in and use any old image. You’ve got to choose those you use very, very carefully.
While not a full list, the below are a few general rules you should follow in order to get the most out of your visual content. (Click here for a more complete guide!)
1) Make sure the photos are relevant to the information presented.
2) Simple is better- don’t confuse readers with overly complex images. It defeats the purpose of quickly communicating information and will deter them from clicking through.
3) Avoid using stock images- you want to provide special content that no one can find elsewhere. This reaffirms that you’re the expert in your field. A stock image appears lazy. If you can take photos specific to your business, use them – it shows that you are the real deal.
Images are one of the best ways for you to quickly grasp attention. But they’ll only work if you’re implementing them properly. Don’t take any chances with your images and make sure that they add to the value you’re proceeding and are unique from everything else out there.
Images are just one of the methods you need to employ to help break up text and make your content more accessible.
The way you present your content is just as important as the images you use. If you get it right, optimizing your content could help your users quickly pick out the one piece of information most useful to them and will help retain their attention for the duration of the article.
However, creating an aesthetically pleasing piece of content is no easy feat. Fortunately, we’ve broken it down into the primary actions you should take.
At the very basic level you should always:
Huge blocks of text are intimidating. They make readers think that reading your content is going to be a laborious task. Using shorter paragraphs shows them that it’s an easier read and allows them to easily scan the key points.
Rafal Tomal of Rainmaker Digital offers this handy little design to help illustrate the point.
Just like big paragraphs, long sentences are a huge turn off for readers. They make your content easier to read and more accessible. Don’t be afraid to throw the established writing rules out the window. Start sentences with “and” and “but.” Use incomplete formats and basically write how you speak.
It may seem odd at first, but it will definitely help keep your copy shorter and more accessible.
This is a difficult area to navigate. Generally speaking, you want to keep your language as simple as possible. Of course, this won’t be possible if you’re writing high-level technical documents, however, the principle stands.
Whenever you’re writing, use the most simple language to make it accessible for a wider audience. If you’re not sure what your audience’s reading level is, then check out the Seer Blog’s content reading level check.
Whitespace is your friend.
It helps make everything less intimidating and more accessible. Check any leading website and you’ll notice how there’s a ton of whitespace on page which not only helps highlight the short paragraphs of copy, but also makes for a more pleasurable read. Here’s an example from Squarespace.
Modern readers don’t have hours to spend reading your content.
They don’t go online to read War and Peace. They’re looking for specific information and they want it now. Short, sharp sentences are necessary for a chance at driving action and increased engagement.
Twitter is popular because it releases short, bite-sized information in 160 characters or less, which is exactly what people want.
According to Buffer, shorter Facebook posts see 23% more interaction and 66% more engagement for updates that are 80 characters or less. This is one area where you can settle for less!
Subheadings are a skimmer’s best friend.
When people are skimming through content, their eyes are automatically directed to certain page elements. More often than not, they find your subheadings. Subheadings are the perfect precursor to what is in the following paragraph. To create effective subheadings:
For years, copywriters have used one tactic to quickly communicate key points and large amounts of information in very short amounts of time.
I am of course talking about bullet points.
Bullet points are an incredible method for grabbing attention and highlighting key benefits or takeaways extremely quickly.
Rather than explain why bullet points are so amazing in paragraph form, here’s a quick bullet list that explains and demonstrates all in one. Bullet points are:
1) Easy to skim
2) Quickly noticed
3) A way to communicate vast amounts of information in short periods of time
If you have a number of points to make and you’re not sure how to best put them across, use bullet points. Simple as that.
So, subheads, images and bullets are a good way to break up copy and highlight key points. But what about when you have a full paragraph of information and you want to highlight a few key words?
That’s where typographical styling becomes your best friend.
Bolding, italicizing and underlining words is a simple way to help key points stand off the page and really make an impression.
When used effectively, your text formatting will subconsciously give clues to your readers as what they should pay extra consideration to.
Just be careful with your typography. Play around too much and we re-encounter the problem with visual hierarchy again. When everything is important, nothing really is.
So, you’ve created an incredible piece, optimized your formatting and added some kick-ass images.
Will it work?
Who knows. The true test is what happens after you hit the Publish button. However, you can implement one final test to see how well things might work.
First, you need to zoom out so you can view the whole content and blur it slightly. Now, take a look and see if there is an apparent visual hierarchy to the piece or whether everything looks very similar.
Once again I’ll refer to Rafal Tomal’s piece as he has a great example of this in practice.
Follow the above example and see if you can quickly discern the various copy elements that would make your piece more readable and accessible for readers.
Content may well be King. But presentation is, without doubt, the crown prince.
If you’re spending hours optimizing your message and content the last thing you need is for it all to fall flat before a reader has even given it a chance.
Whenever you’re creating content make sure that you also follow these guidelines for a more successfully presented piece:
1 – Create awesome, unique images.
2 – Use short paragraphs and sentences.
3 – Write for your audience’s reading level.
4 – Embrace the whitespace.
5 – Use sub heads effectively.
6 – Bullet points are your best friend
7 – Bold, italicize and underline key points within paragraphs.
8 – Blur your content as a final test.
The way you present your content is almost as important as the message contained within. Don’t overlook the visual aspect of content marketing or you could end up regretting it.
If you’ve got any tips on visual hierarchy optimization or have anything to add, leave a comment below!
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