Keep It Short and Simple Online

Effective Writing for Online Readers

Writing for online readers requires a different approach than other mediums. If you want to grab people’s attention, you need to go back to the basics.

Every day, a torrent of new blog posts and articles floods the web. Untold numbers of bloggers, brands and marketers, all fighting for our limited attention. Even then, it’s mere droplets in an ocean of content. We’re living in the digital age, after all. The amount of information at our fingertips is staggering.

How do we possibly parse it all? The logical answer is that we don’t — we get good at making snap judgments after spending a few seconds on a website.

If you’re one of the brands trying to break through, you have your work cut out for you, more so if you’re in the business of articles and blog posts. Without writing effectively to online readers, it’s an uphill battle.

Why Keeping It Short and Simple Matters

The best way to grab your visitors’ attention is through an approach we call KISS.

Long ago, it stood for “Keep it simple, stupid.” These days, however, it means “Keep it short and simple,” and it’s the best method for breaking through the noise and standing like an island paradise in the sea of endless content.

Put simply, it’s a focus on crystal-clear communication, short and simple words, succinct sentences and meaningful paragraphs.

Brands have an infinitesimally small amount of time to communicate their message before it’s too late. It’s literally on the magnitude of a half of a tenth of a second. Online readers can sift through two dozen competitors in minutes. Brands that don’t stand out are just another drop in the ocean.

It’s not that we all have short attention spans now; it’s that we’ve adapted to the endless information streams. We started taking shortcuts. For example, there’s a good chance you landed on this page and gave it a quick top-to-bottom before you decided to read.

The problem is that many writers don’t know how to write in a way that reaches people through their rapid-fire filters. Keeping it short and simple is the way.

What Short and Simple Means

You might think keeping it short and simple refers to the length of your articles and blog posts. Were that the case, this article would be a tad ironic, considering it clocks in at over 1,500 words.

Rest assured there’s no irony here. In fact, long-form posts do amazingly well. According to HubSpot, articles in the 2,250 to 2,500 word range rake in the most organic traffic, while those over 2,500 words get the most shares on social media.

No, keeping it short and simple doesn’t refer to content length. It’s the words you choose and your sentence readability. It’s about the flow of your paragraphs from one to the next. It’s how all of it fits together.

Put simply, it’s about great original content that leaps off the screen, snatches people by the collar and pulls them along for the ride.

How to Keep Your Content Short and Simple

Whether you’re a new writer or a talented scribe, the short and simple approach improves your prose on the web. If you’re struggling to gain any traction, implementing these ideas improves your chances considerably.

With that said, let’s dive in and learn how to write for the web.

Short and Simple Words

A stereotype exists of writers who enjoy packing their prose with complicated words. There’s a kernel of truth to it; some writers enjoy demonstrating their vocabulary rather than communicating.

Good writers don’t do this, and you shouldn’t either. Writing isn’t about showing off — it’s about moving the ideas from your mind into your readers’ minds.

“A writer’s style should be direct and personal, his imagery rich and earthy, and his words simple and vigorous.”

— Ernest Hemingway

Keep in mind, Hemingway’s readers weren’t peppered with endless internet distractions. If writing simply was good advice then, it’s definitely good advice now.

If you want to test your words for simplicity, read them aloud. If they flow naturally like a good conversation, you’re on the right track. But keep in mind that the conversations you have online are with people who may not know what you know. You need to choose the words they use, not the ones you use.

Short and Simple Sentences

Simplicity applies to your sentences, too. Remember, keeping it short and simple is all about communication. Shorter sentences are easier to read. They flow better.

Short sentences do require balance, however. Good writing is a bit hard to describe, but look closely and you’ll start to see patterns. For example, no two sentences are the same length. There’s a natural rhythm that passes from sentence to sentence.

And speaking of rhythm, nothing kills it quicker than passive voice. Recognizing passive voice and weeding it out active makes your writing more confident, simpler and more effective.

Active voice is when the subject performs the verb. Passive voice is when the verb acts on the subject. Consider these sentences:

  • Passive: You would be better as a writer with active voice
  • Active: You are a better writer with active voice

The first sentence lacks definition. The verb phrase “would be” is ephemeral. It’s not concrete. The passive voice tells us what would be or could be, not what is.

The second sentence is infinitely better. Active voice is more concrete. No questions, no pies in the sky. You are a better writer with active voice.

Writing great sentences comes with lots of intentional practice. But you can still simplify things in editing. Look for verb phrases to carve out of your prose. If your sentences seem too long, the read-aloud test works well: If it takes you more than one breath to get through a sentence, consider chopping it up a bit.

Short and Simple Paragraphs

If you’ve read this far, you’ve noticed that most of these paragraphs are only a few sentences long. Even single sentences qualify as paragraphs. If the last sentence in your previous paragraph sets up a great transition to the following paragraph, drop it to the next line.

Let it stand on its own in all its glory.

While there aren’t any hard and fast rules for writing paragraphs for the web, the goal is still clarity. Cramming multiple ideas into a single dense paragraph overwhelms your readers. They want clear, undiluted information about your brand, not a philosophical treatise.

Grab the Scanners, Relieve the Readers

A lot of what we’ve covered so far addresses scanners — people who pop onto your site and scroll up and down a few times before deciding whether to stay. Keeping things short and simple helps your ideas stand out more quickly and clearly to these types of visitors.

But not everything we do is for them. After all, the readers are the ones getting your whole message. They’re the ones engaged with your content. And engagement means a higher chance of a conversion. You need to make them nice and comfortable, too.

You do this by providing little rest stops along the way.

In other words, you need to make your content as easy to read as possible. Reading requires mental effort. It’s literal work. Make the people putting in work to learn about your brand more comfortable by:

  • Breaking your content into sections with headers
  • Using brand-appropriate images or gifs
  • Adding bullet points and numbered lists where appropriate
  • Making use of callouts to draw attention to catchy lines

Believe it or not, making things lighter and more digestible makes a big difference in a person’s cognitive load. Pay attention to yourself the next time you’re reading a blog post. You’ll notice yourself loosen a little when you pass a funny image or a few bullet points.

Done effectively, these little pit stops refresh your readers without breaking context. They keep things moving. Incidentally, this formatting helps snag the quick scanners and lures them in.

Everybody wins.

Putting It All Together

Examples help solidify things in the learning process. So let’s take everything we’ve covered and show you what it looks like in a before and after. Here’s a short introduction authored by John Doe, Marketing Intern at Mildly Successful Brand:

I’m been with Mildly Successful Brand for the last two months, trying to help them increase their reach, visibility and user engagement through SEO optimization efforts, a content strategy and social media marketing. So far, our marketing efforts have only produced modest returns, but we’re still learning and exploring new avenues through which we can reach more potential clients and provide demonstrable returns on marketing investments to the business owners. Our content marketing strategy, in particular, is underperforming immensely, and we may have to reduce content marketing spend and funnel our marketing budget into something that produces better returns, such as email marketing.

Ouch, John. From the top, John Doe, Marketing Director at Wildly Successful Brand:

Three years later, WSB is unrecognizable. Feeding off the success of my content strategy, the plucky business morphed into a marketing powerhouse. Last year alone, we grew by nearly 200%. This year, we’re putting our triple-sized marketing budget into:

  • Increasing reach and visibility in search engines
  • Outsourcing our content to increase scale
  • Developing our brand through social media

And I’m the new Marketing Director.

The difference is clear. We’re certainly glad John didn’t give up on his content marketing efforts.

Short and Simple Works

Writing for the web is all about simplicity. It’s about making your ideas crisp, clear and accessible. If you make your readers stop to read the same thing twice, you’re doing it wrong. If they need to reach for a dictionary, you’re doomed. Follow Hemingway’s advice. If he were alive today, he’d write killer web content.

If you’re a brand looking for high-quality content produced at scale, look no further than Crowd Content. We’ve built a robust network of thousands of professional writers providing top-tier content at affordable prices. You won’t find better quality content at scale anywhere else.

If you’re ready to stand out from the sea of content and tower over the competition, get in touch with us today.