Blogs, emails etc: write for readers’ eyes

If you write emails, web content or anything else read on a computer screen, you need to make it look like fits into a big F .

Eye-tracking studies confirm that online readers follow an F pattern. They focus the most attention on the top horizontal line of the F, then scan down, eyes left.

The first 25 words
That means you need to summarize your main message and give your readers an important reason to continue reading — all in the first 25 words, across the top of the F.

Then you need to give them flush-left bullets, numbers, subheads, bolded words or other signposts that help them refocus.

At journalism school, they drilled into us the importance of packing who, what, when, where and why into the lead paragraph.

The hook
While the main purpose of the newspaper is to provide news, online writing often has a long or short-term marketing objective. What’s more, if it’s a blog of other social media, you want to invite conversation. So in addition to the who, what, when, where and why of journalism, those critical 25 words need to answer the question: What’s in it for me?

Because readers tear through online content much faster than newspapers, this 25-word hook has to be strong enough to encourage readers to continue and pay attention.

Email
If you’d like to learn more about how to work with online reading patterns in html email newsletters, check out my newsletter, Focus left for online readers.

Recently I’ve been receiving more marketing emails from people who cram long lengths of text into a narrow, flush-left column. Points for sticking to the left. But the trouble is they seem to forget that people just won’t keep scrolling down a long screen.

Again, newspaper publishers had it figured out, with the most important features placed on the top half of the page, above the crease, as they say.

To sum up, here are my three pieces of advice:
1. Pack your main message and benefit into the first 25 words
2. Guide scanners with numbers, subheads and other signposts.
3. Spare me the long text.

Any advice to add?

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