With masses of information online, attracting the attention of busy B2B readers and prospects is an ongoing challenge. Here are some key tips on how to engage skim readers and create short-form content as part of your content marketing strategy.
People rarely “read” online. Meeting the needs of the B2B audience who skim read your content is vital for marketing success.
Since 1997 Nielsen Norman Group have been reporting that people are far more likely to scan than read word for word. Whilst there have been some innovations in presenting information online over the last 20 or so years, this behaviour hasn’t changed. Ensuring information is easily scannable with short-form content and plenty of headings to hook your readers is critical for engaging prospects at different stages in the customer journey and needs to be a key component in your content marketing strategy.
How long you spend reading is also a matter of motivation. When Nielsen Norman Group were looking at the length of time people spend looking at online content, a number of factors also come into play. How much time you spend reading information depends on your level of motivation:
- How important the information is;
- Whether you are researching a topic (e.g. at the beginning of a product purchase);
- The reader’s level of focus on the task on hand, or
- Whether you have a preference for more detailed-oriented information.
So, you need both long-form and short-form content depending on the amount of time and motivation your readers have at different stages in your content marketing strategy.
Why you need both long-form and short-form content
Both long-form content and scannable information are important to consider:
- as part of your content marketing strategy,
- at different stages of your customer journey, and
- as part of marketing campaigns.
Educate with long-form content.
Typically, long-form content consists of materials designed to educate prospects and explain complex aspects of your products or services. So, long-form content is very important at the start of the customer journey when prospects are getting to know and understand your offering and as part of the long complex B2B sales cycle ahead.
Whitepapers, e-books, how to guides, tutorials and webinars all fall in to this category. Whitepapers help showcase your knowledge on issues and build trust, while tutorials and webinars will help prospects to understand the benefits of your solution and help them to get to know your products inside out.
Engage with short-form content.
For those prospects who are yet to even know about your products, or to engage prospects at specific points further down the customer journey (after you have built trust) short-form is ideal. Skim readers who don’t have time to invest, can be reminded of your offering with short-form content in an effort to move them further down the journey and help close the deal.
In their 2022 Media Consumption Report UKI, TechTarget identified that IT Directors need short-form content in the mid to late stages of the buying journey to help them make key decisions relating to how the solution will help solve business and technical challenges and questions on integration and implementation.
What is short-form content?
When referring to short-form content, most marketers and SEO experts are typically describing blogs, emails and social media posts under 1000 words. But, it is not just the length (or lack of it) of short-form content that is important. It is equally crucial to structure both short-form and long-form content so that the information is easily readable, and incorporate clear headings throughout to direct your readers.
You might also want to consider other sorts of short-form content and communications to engage your audience, including LinkedIn advertising carousels, infographics and short videos.
Creating short-form content
When creating short-form content, you need clear messaging, text and headings to guide your readers.
Messaging is key. To hook busy readers (and to drive SEO) short succinct messaging that accurately describes your offering is imperative!
Messages need to be:
- Relevant and valuable to your reader;
- Delivered at the right time for impact;
- Clear about what the reader should do next.
When structuring messages for short-form or long-form content start with a problem that your product solves or a statement that will resonate with your reader to gain their attention. Make sure that they have a clear “call-to-action” and know what they are expected to do once they’ve finished scanning.
Clear text, simple sentences for easy-to-understand information. Make use of short, descriptive sentences to get your message across clearly.
Whilst it is necessary to use the correct terminology, especially when writing for a technical audience, it is best to avoid any unnecessary jargon and complex terminology for scan readers. Keep writing clear, with simple sentences and straightforward descriptions that can be understood by both a technical and a wider audience of decision makers. Plain English is for everyone, including technical experts!
Juicy headings spice up short-form and long-form content.
Titles are vital. Spice them up to hook your readers in and sprinkle them deliberately throughout your short-form and long-form content to appetize your readers and nudge them in the right direction. Like any good menu, if you have quality ingredients it’s good to highlight them!
Not only are descriptive titles good for attracting readers to read more in depth, but they should also contain keywords to attract Google and move your page up the rankings to “Michelin star” level for your industry.
Short-form content – Structuring your page
Not only is clear content key, but you also need to make sure it is easily scannable and digestible.
“F” shape or “layer-cake” – How we digest content. Continuing our food-themed review of short-form and long-form content creation online!
When websites were in their infancy, research was carried out to understand how users read content by tracking eye patterns. In the absence of subheadings and bullet points, readers were found to use an “F” shape to scan across the top of the page first, then branch off from the left further down, before descending the page. Most attention was spent on the right hand side and bottom of the page. (The pattern is reversed for languages read from right to left).
Much research has been carried out since then for webpages and mobile phones, and the “F” shape is still valid today, alongside other scanning patterns, including:
- Spotted pattern – where the reader fixes on specific words or chunks throughout the page
- Layer-cake pattern – the eyes follow the page’s headings and subheadings and little in between
- Commitment pattern – the traditional reading pattern where readers are highly interested in the content
Chunks of easily digestible content
Following research on how we scan web pages and mobiles phones, the recommendation is to break text into smaller, easier to digest, chunks – this helps scan readers to better process, understand and remember information.
In your next blog or long-form content, consider the following:
- A top first paragraph with wording larger than the rest of the main text (but not as bold as your titles) to draw readers to the key theme or problem your content addresses
- Clear headings and distinct hierarchy of headings and items grouped together
- Short paragraphs with white space separating them
- Short lines of text
Make your short-form content visual
It is important to hit your B2B audience in a variety of ways. Blogs are obvious things to consider. But, as everyone has a different way of engaging with information, not only is a mix of long and short-form content needed, but different forms of short-form content.
Visual elements are also important, on their own, such as easy to read infographics, videos, informative 3D visuals or photography with annotations.
Include meaningful imagery
A recent development, when there are a lot of images on the page, is to use a zigzag or “Z” pattern with text and images alternating from left to right as you move down the page.
Research has found that images conveying valuable information work both when they are aligned or zigzag across the page. Readers will spend time looking at the images in short-form content to understand your offering.
Decorative imagery, used to establish your brand, is better aligned down the page.
Short-form content for busy B2Bs
B2B content needs to shout out loud and clear to be heard online. So one final tip…
Learn from consumer marketing. Remember, your B2B target audience are also consumers.
With the average time spent online in the UK by adults approaching 4 hours, with 3 of those being via smartphone you are not only competing for airtime with your direct competitors but also with the top online companies in the world. In this environment it is ever more important to learn from the techniques used by our consumer company cousins.
Fashions come and go, but scan reading is the norm on the internet every day. Connect quickly and clearly and your audience will read on…