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Sell More with the Grammar of ‘Content Design’

Web content has a grammar of its own, something entirely separate from the grammar we all use as part of speaking and thinking in the English language. So, as it happens, do TV and print — and each of those is a unique entity unto itself. When you’re designing a webpage that’s intended to sell something (which 80% of all content is at this point), you have to design your content with a meaningfully different set of grammatical rules in your head than you have when you’re writing for a different purpose.

Why?
The key to understanding ‘content grammar’ is understanding that the vast majority of the people reading your content are doing it because they believe your content is going to solve a problem they’re having. They’re active, they’re engaged, but they’re also impatient and judgmental.

  • If they can’t immediately pick out ‘the solution part,’ they’re likely to simply move on to the next page and start scanning it.
  • If they encounter imagery and storytelling rather than concrete examples and specific facts, they’re going to assume you’re shilling snake oil and vanish.
  • If you attempt to construct too complex of a narrative for them, they will simply reject it, because on the Web, people expect and want to be in control of the narrative that they’re building.

Reading vs. Scanning
The first element of Content Design, then, is making content that can be scanned, rather than read — because people that are on the hunt for a solution don’t want to read. In fact, just 18% of Web-based Sales Content is read word-for-word; the other 82% vanishes into a haze of quick glances toward the content with the most emphasis or other design elements pointing at it. This is why content designers use

  • Bullet Points
  • Subheadings
  • Italic, Bold, and Underlines
  • Short Paragraphs
  • Anchor Text
  • Informal Tone
  • My***ery Words

— all of these things help the scanning reader pick out the key concepts and determine what part of the content is worth their time. Take the time to put your statistics, specific facts, and other sales-oriented content in one or more of these ‘containers,’ for maximum impact.

Reading Poorly vs. Reading Well
Similarly, when a web reader does decide to slow down and start reading, they often give it only 1/2~3/4 of a second before they start skimming again — unless you recapture their attention with some fancy italics, or you put the most dramatic and interesting facts first. As in, within the first three words of each headline subheader.

Writing Poorly vs. Writing Well
At the same time, the skimmy, impulsive nature of web-sales-content readers means you don’t have to adhere that closely to the traditional rules of English grammar. Web readers have no f**ks to give if you have a sentence fragment. They don’t particularly care if you write “7” instead of “seven” — they’ll probably love you for it!

They certainly don’t care if you have a one-sentence paragraph.

Invert Your Pyramid
In school, you probably learned a pretty typical route for writing: Thesis, Argument, Support, Conclusion. A nice tool, but utterly inappropriate for online sales copy. You need to grab your reader immediately, so tell them up front exactly what the conclusion will be. Then you can offer your support, and conclude by reminding them what your thesis is. Done deal!

When To Ignore All This Stuff
Of course, these rules only really apply to sales content. If what you’re trying to do is build a reputation as an expert in your field, or get people to stick around on your page until they decide to click on an AdSense ad, or sway their opinion about a topic, you’re going to want to write content that is much more traditional in nature. Can’t be an expert

    • If
    • Every
      • Other

Sentence you write is completely LOST in the

    1. ebb and
    2. flow of your
    3.  ‘scannability’.

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