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Bombarded by 5,000 Messages a Day: 5 Ways to Ensure You’re Getting Through

A content marketer has to contend with constant, lightening-fast competing messages. No matter what field you serve, your audience has thousands of other messages competing for their attention and action.

This may feel overwhelming, lead to fatigue, and exhaust you to the point of not trying.

Don’t give up yet. There are five simple rules you can follow to ensure your messages will be the ones that do get through. Most of them concern something so imperceptible that we don’t even think about it: information design.

Information design, in this case, is about how the human eyes perceive the written word. Depending on how you arrange text on the page, your reader’s brain will make a millisecond decision about whether to keep reading.

Here are five things to make sure your messages survive in the whirlwind of marketing that swirls around us all:

1. Lead with verbs, not nouns

Which message are you more likely to read?

  • The all-new Volkswagen Passat, 2012 Motor Trend Car of the Year.  – OR –
  • Drive Motor Trend’s Car of the Year, the all-new Volkswagen Passat.

We respond to verbs more than nouns because verbs mean doing something. And it’s usually something we like doing.

2. Cut your copy significantly, and watch your sentence length

Most clients are going to ask you to write more, not less. I’ve led user experience testing, and I can tell you most people don’t read. They skim, and if they find content they want, then they will read. Even then, they can only take in so much.

Consider the following statistic, presented in three different ways:

  • Once there are more than 14 words in a sentence, readers’ comprehension drops below 90 percent. (There are 15 words in that sentence).
  • If you use more than 14 words in a sentence, your reader’s comprehension drops. (14 words).
  • Don’t use more than 14 words in a sentence: readers’ comprehension will drop. (13 words)

You tell me which sentence was easier for you to read and comprehend.

3. Use no more than 1-2 sentences per paragraph

When the human eye skims over a block of text, the brain is quickly tallying a cost-benefit analysis. “Should I bother reading? Will I learn anything new? Is this more important than that new episode of “Modern Family”?

When you create blocks of text, you create blockades to your readers’ feeling comfortable with plowing ahead. Content marketing, for the most part, is supposed to be fun. Don’t make it feel like reading a college textbook.

4. Read your copy out loud

Reading out loud gives you a different perspective on your writing, and allows you to hear your voice in the head of your reader. Ask yourself, “Would I want to read this?” If not, then you probably need to cut somewhere.

5. Check that you have all the elements in the “Formula for Great Content”

Great content always has the following three elements. Ask yourself if your content is:

  • Concise
  • Informative
  • Attractive

If you can check off all three boxes, you’ve been successful.

What readability standards do you follow when creating content and designing information?

Special thanks to Ann Wylie of Wylie Communications, who taught me many of these statistics.