In the competitive world of online content, knowing how to create captivating material is essential for success. This is true whether you are crafting a product description for your online store, writing an article for your blog post or newsletter, or even creating a social media post.  One of the most effective ways to achieve this is by crafting scannable content. Whether you’re a blogger, small business owner, or content creator, understanding the art of scannability is a hidden key to online success. In this article, we’ll discuss scannable content, its benefits, and how you can create it to boost both user engagement and SEO.

The Discovery of Scanning

Before we dive into the specifics of creating scannable content, let’s explore why it’s essential. Usability expert Jakob Nielsen initiated a groundbreaking study in the late 1990s to investigate how people read digital content compared to printed material. After four years of meticulous research, the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) unveiled their findings.

The revelation was clear: people don’t read web pages in the traditional sense. Instead, they scan them, extracting individual words and sentences. Subsequent research by NNG and other groups corroborated these findings, ushering in a new era of digital publishing.

Website owners soon realized that to captivate and retain readers, they needed to make their content “scannable.” Scannable content allows readers to swiftly identify the information most relevant to their needs, and Nielsen’s research pinpointed specific features of such content.

What is Scannable Content?

Scannable content is tailored to users’ scanning behavior, enhancing engagement, task completion, and memory retention. When executed effectively, it enables users to rapidly survey a page, comprehend the main points, and locate desired information. So, what are the key elements of scannable content?

  • Using Few Words: Keep it concise.
  • Prioritizing Important Information: Place it at the top.
  • Short Paragraphs and Sentences: Promote readability.
  • Highlighting Essential Words or Phrases: Draw attention.
  • Breaking Up Large Blocks of Text: Enhance readability.

To break up long text passages effectively, employ:

  • Descriptive Subheadings: Offer clear signposts.
  • Bulleted and Numbered Lists: Summarize information.
  • Relevant Images or Charts: Provide visual context.

Interestingly, Nielsen’s team discovered that readers preferred objective language over promotional jargon.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of scannable content, let’s delve into its benefits and why it’s worth your time.

Benefits of Scannable Content

Creating scannable content is not just a courtesy to your readers; it yields substantial advantages for your website:

  • Time and Effort Savings: Scannable and concise content saves readers time and effort.
  • Enhanced Engagement: Scannable content keeps readers engaged and encourages repeat visits.
  • Higher Conversions: Research by the Nielsen Norman Group confirms that scannable content improves conversions significantly. Key strategies include:
    • Cutting Content Length: Keep it concise.
    • Avoiding Promotional Language: Opt for objective communication.
    • Utilizing a Scannable Layout: Employ effective formatting.

For deeper insights into these strategies, consider exploring the wealth of research available on the NNG website.

SEO and Accessibility

Many principles of scannable content overlap with those of high-quality content, where quality stands as the primary ranking factor. Furthermore, scannability and SEO efforts contribute to enhanced accessibility, expanding your reach and attracting new users.

So, ready to start creating scannable content? Let’s go through the steps.

How to Create Scannable Content

When crafting scannable content, follow this checklist to ensure your content is both engaging and optimized for SEO. For WordPress users, the All in One SEO (AIOSEO) plugin can be a valuable companion.

Use All in One SEO (AIOSEO): WordPress Plugin

AIOSEO is a well-established plugin with a strong user base of over three million site owners. Once installed, follow the setup wizard to get started. The plugin offers valuable recommendations to enhance your content’s scannability and SEO.

Start with a Focus Keyphrase

Select a focus keyphrase (target keyword) that represents the main topic of your article. Conduct keyword research to choose a keyword that’s both relevant and easy to rank for. Ensure you include your focus keyphrase in:

  • Title
  • Page URL
  • Introduction
  • Description
  • Subheadings

AIOSEO will check these elements to ensure your keyphrase is effectively integrated.

Use Descriptive Titles

Your page title is a critical element for attracting clicks from search engine results. Craft a precise title that conveys what’s unique about your article. Whenever possible, incorporate your keyphrase at the beginning of the title to ensure immediate clarity.

AIOSEO will help you assess your title’s effectiveness and provide guidance on keyphrase usage and character limits.

Apply Inverted Pyramid Style

The inverted pyramid writing style places essential points at the beginning of a web page, drawing readers in from the outset. This approach mirrors how top-quality content providers like the Nielsen Norman Group and Harvard Business Review structure their articles.

In the digital context, “above-the-fold” refers to content visible without scrolling. Given the variation in above-the-fold space due to different devices and screen sizes, it’s crucial to place a call-to-action within this space to maximize engagement.

Organize Content into Sections

Logical content structure is vital for both user comprehension and SEO. Divide your content into sections, each labeled with descriptive subheadings. These subheadings should concisely summarize the content within, and like page titles, they should include the most important keywords.

AIOSEO will assess your content for subheading distribution, prompting you to add more subheadings if needed.

Follow Principles of Good Writing

The principles of scannable content align with those of effective writing:

  • Concision: Trim unnecessary words.
  • Readability: Make it easy and enjoyable to read.
  • Simple Language: Use short words, paragraphs, and sentences.
  • Accuracy: Base your content on credible sources and facts.

AIOSEO evaluates your article’s readability and provides a Flesch Reading Ease score. Additionally, it scans for readability issues such as passive voice, repetitive sentence starts, paragraph length, appropriate transition words, and the inclusion of images and videos.

Break up Text with Scannable Items

To maintain reader interest, incorporate relevant images and videos to break up long passages. Additionally, consider using:

  • Bulleted or Numbered Lists: Summarize key points.
  • Tables or Diagrams: Clarify complex information.
  • Highlighted Text: Emphasize critical content.

While bolding, italicizing, underlining, or color-coding text can be effective for highlighting, use these techniques sparingly to avoid overwhelming your audience. Utilize pull quotes, sidebars, and HTML details elements cautiously, as they can either enhance engagement or disrupt the reading experience, depending on your audience’s preferences.

Consider experimenting with inline ads and newsletter signups to gauge their impact on reader engagement.

Don’t Forget to Use Videos

As I’ve mentioned in multiple articles, videos can be key for both user engagement and SEO. It is always a good idea to include one or more videos in a longer article as many people prefer to watch the internet rather than read it.

YouTube player

By following these steps and embracing the art of scannability, you can transform your content into a masterpiece that not only engages your audience but also ranks favorably in search results. Explore the possibilities, optimize your content, and watch your online presence thrive.