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How to Write Content to Make People Read (Not Scan) It

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How to Write Content to Make People Read (Not Scan) It

Lesley Vos
How to Write Content to Make People Read (Not Scan) It

Let me guess:

You all are SEO specialists here.

Okay, some are content marketers or content writers (like your humble narrator). And being a content writer, I am fed up with all that tittup around SEO people pretending they're a band of knights in shining armor who challenge Google all the time, struggling for links and tops in SERP.

I do love content. Bill Gates would hardly think about his phrase becoming the motto of all content marketers when he pronounced his mellifluent "Content is king."

But here's the kicker:

Content is NOT king.

We still need high-quality links to promote content and let people find it on Google. And all that ridiculous debate, a.k.a. holy war of three years’ duration between SEO people and content marketers about "who is the captain now?" makes no sense to specialists, because no one would see and need their content if there were no links to it.

Still, there is one thought warming the cockles of my heart:

SEO wouldn't exist without content. Yes, these guys build links but what they need to do this is... wait for it... words.

And here the problem comes:

They don't know how to write text.

They hire copywriters, create numerous tools that would help them understand whether texts from copywriters can please Google robots; they count keywords, publish mediocre lists with <h2>link</h2> to their brands names, forgetting about Penguin, etc.

We all use SEMrush for analytics: traffic, competitor analysis, backlinks, anchors, keywords... yes, they all matter.

Still, do we think about the number one tool that brings those traffic, backlinks, and keywords?

It's a text.

We need text to promote websites. Make people read your text, and you'll forget about black hat SEO forever.

How to do that?

"It's not easy for people to read online text."

Reading online is difficult.

Example of online text that’s difficult to readExample of online text that’s difficult to read

More than that, reading online is different! 

Writing content, creating hooks for content, and choosing the way to generate and distribute it, we should always take into account the fact people don't read today.

They scan.

We all know a so-called F-shaped pattern demonstrating how people scan content online:

F-shaped pattern: how people scan texts onlineF-shaped pattern: how people scan texts online

To make them read (not scan!) content, we should remember the following contextual heuristics before writing and share it:

  1. People start reading from upper left corner of a page (unless the content is written in Hebrew or another right-to-left language). Yeah, surprise-surprise.
  2. Navigation elements work better on the top of a page.
  3. Users "read" a page diagonally, from upper left corner to lower right one.
  4. Users pay attention to menu and navigation buttons.
  5. They ignore all unusual and cool shifts.
  6. They commit to headlines.
  7. They don't mention huge blocks of text while scanning.
  8. Lists hold attention for a longer time.
  9. One-column format is better for readers than several-column one.
  10. Short paragraphs are easier to perceive.
  11. "21 tips" in a title or header works better than "twenty-one tips."
  12. People read ads containing text more often than other ads.
  13. Texts draw attention first, graphics afterward.
  14. Shift size matters.
  15. Users pay attention to subheadings only if they are interesting.

So, if you want people to read your text, you better use a so-called usability map for content creation:

Usability map: questions to answer in texts to make people read themUsability map: questions to answer in texts to make people read them

The only thing people need from your content is information. And as soon as possible!"

What's old is new again:

  • Your website is 53% better if your text is concise.
  • Your website is 47% better if your text is easy to read.
  • Your website is 28% better if your text is informative rather than advertising-focused.


Please, Welcome His Majesty Good Internet Text!

With all that said, follow these steps to make your content readable, not just scannable:

  • Group information for your readers up one side and down the other.
  • Use words and terms your reader will understand.
  • Build subheadings like a boss.
  • Write AWESOME opening phrases for each paragraph.
  • Follow the principle of one idea per one paragraph.
  • Offer your text in the right time at right place.

Today, every user can create content and publish it online. As far as the Internet contains too much unimportant and false information, users are very skeptical about what they read online.

"Internet texts are not just content but interface as well."

Being content, your text answers the readers' questions (articles, product descriptions, phrases), explains what they can do, and provides the contextual information (your company name, its goals, image and video descriptions, etc.).

Being interface, your text navigates readers:

Answer these questions while writing texts to navigate readers
Answer these questions while writing texts to navigate readers

What instruments do you have for that? 

  1. Headings and subheadings (Where am I? What will I find here?)
  2. Menu (What else can I find here?)
  3. Hyperlinks (Where will I find more information?)

SEMrush homepage text as navigationSEMrush homepage text as navigation

How to Write a Good Internet Text?

First things first:

Make your text simple, avoiding hyperbolas and all marketing tricks. Get down to business explaining why people should read your text.

Cut it! People don't like reading online, remember? Don't force them. Keep your texts short and up to the point. No water, I beg you!

Structure your text: sub headings, bullet lists, short sentences and paragraphs, informative subheadings, etc. All listings should be presented as lists.

Use keywords. Finally! (I hear that deep sighs of SEO guys.) Make a list of 5-6 keywords in advance and find the right place for them in your heading and snippet.

Use hyperlinks explaining what's hidden behind them.

Write descriptions for visuals!Tip: People love descriptions!

Last But Not Least:

Speak the same language with your users.

And may the writing force be with you!

Like this post? Follow us on RSS and read more interesting posts:

Lesley Vos is a content writer eagering to become a pro content marketer. Passionate about words, texts, and literature. Wonderer and dreamer. Happy to meet you on @LesleyVos.
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Sarah Quinn
This is a great post, Lesley! I love your tip about limiting to one idea per sentence. People want steps, not essays.
Lesley Vos
Sarah Quinn
Thank you, Sarah!
Martin Tang
My favorite is: Your website is 28% better if your text is informative rather than advertising-focused.

Sometime too many 'advertising-focused' just make your audience stop reading the content. Should focus provide more value & benefit to audience or people will quit the whole post.
Lesley Vos
Martin Tang
Thanks for the comment, Martin!
Agree with you: ads are often nothing but frustration for readers. And if you want content to convert, let's concentrate on value :)
Martin Tang
Lesley Vos
Totally agree, the content should provide more 'benefits' to readers or they will runaway from you forever.
Good stuff Leslie, enjoyed the post.

"Offer your text in the right time at right place." in particular is something I think is massively important when it comes to getting people to read your posts. It's always a good idea to read back over a post and look for the areas where there is a bit of a "lull" - the areas where someone might get bored and consider leaving. That's where you have to put in a big juicy hook to keep them reading.
Lesley Vos
Thank you, Danny!

Happy to know you enjoyed reading the post! :) I consider hooks extremely important when it comes to online content, but still have problems with finding juicy ones. As they say, you never stop learning.

Naveen Karma
Lesley Vos
I am enjoying this content marketing post. Thanks for sharing ..
Lesley Vos
Naveen Karma
You are welcome, Naveen!
Lesley Vos
Hi Lesley J. Vos

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