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Creating Customer “Stickiness” with Sharp Editing

When it comes to writing and editing for websites, using language that really “sticks” with your website visitors is of paramount importance.  Research has indicated that the wide majority of internet users, when initially confronted with a website, do not read it word-for-word.  Instead, they rapidly scan the pages and focus on individual words, phrases, and sentences.  They are usually in a hurry, so scanning provides a quick way to determine if they have landed on the right site.

Internet users are also generally very task-oriented, which means they are on your site to accomplish something specific.  So, it is your job to be sure your language causes them to stick with you.  In the marketing business, this is referred to as “stickiness.”

To begin with, stickiness is created in large part by reducing your visitor’s mental workload.  You want to help them devote most of their attention to accomplishing their intended task, instead of being forced to deal with how your information is presented.  You need to make interacting with your site as smooth as silk—and as appetizing as a milkshake. 

So, by editing judiciously and “getting out of their way” language-wise, you facilitate a faster, more effective, more efficient—and more satisfying interaction with your site.  As a result, you’ll greatly increase your reader’s experience—which will ultimately result in higher sales of your products or services.

 

There are two primary areas of writing and editing to utilize when going after the goal of visitor stickiness.  They are editing format and writing structure.  I’ll discuss both of them.

 

Editing Format

Since it has been established by much research that people don't really read web content—they scan it—the style and format of your writing and editing should support this fact.  Use the following guidelines to ensure that you develop easy-to-scan text:

 

1) Headings for pages and important subheadings should have clear, emphasized titles.



2)  When writing numbers, it’s generally best to use digits instead of words; i.e., "50" instead of "fifty."



3) 
If you need to highlight text, do so only on words that convey important information.  Also, instead of highlighting entire sentences, highlight only a few words at a time.



4) 
Write in short sentences or fragments, and don't worry about “absolute” grammatical correctness as long as you make yourself clear.



5) 
Use “action” verbs.  For instance, the word “use” in the previous sentence fragment is an “action” verb.


6) Avoid using acronyms and industry jargon that may not be universally understood by everybody.  Either spell out that acronym or avoid using it completely.



7) 
Instead of always using paragraphs, substitute bullet lists to break apart and add variety to your content.



8) 
Bullet lists must be shorter than numbered lists, so limit bullets to 3-7 items. Any more than that is difficult for your reader to absorb.


What I am talking about here with the shortness of bullet lists is ensuring the “stickiness” necessary to hold your visitor’s attention long enough to make them want to go further and read your longer content. 

Another good rule of thumb is to use numbered sequences for longer lists or any lists that will run over into another page.  Keep what’s called “chunking” in mind.  This refers to presenting information in short chunks, which facilitates memory.

To convey supplemental information and cross-referenced ("see also” type) information, always use supporting links.


Writing Structure 

 

What’s called the “inverted pyramid” is the preferred structure for most website writing.  It is based on the principle of placing what’s most important first, rather than building up to it with a story or evidence. 

To some degree, it’s a counter-intuitive way of writing, but for the web, it’s been shown to be the superior method of delivering content because it’s designed specifically to get around the issue of short attention spans. 

With this style of writing, your key points and conclusions are always given first, with your less important and supporting information placed last.  Again, this inverted pyramid structure is critical since most readers choose not to read very far.

This is a copywriting technique as old as the hills.  This concept is probably not a profound insight to newspaper writers and editors.  They have a similar audience makeup, i.e., casual readers who scan for information through text that competes for their attention. 

As a result, newspapers have employed the model of inverted pyramid writing for decades—and we are all completely accustomed to it.  The importance of articles is determined by headline size and prominent positioning.

The first paragraph summarizes the entire story—the old newspaper adage of “who, what, when, why, and where” in those first few lines—and then supporting information is either placed farther down or (for online editions) a link leads off to other pages.

So How Does this Apply to “Stickiness”?

Should I always employ these writing and editing techniques when constructing my content?  That would be a resounding “Yes!”  When writing your own site’s content, you need to follow the same inverted pyramid structure, getting straight to the point, and letting your reader decide if your content is compelling enough—and relevant enough—to read further. 

This approach involves very tight editing—and proofreading to perfection—but the real beauty of this writing style is that it maximizes the chances that your visitors will leave with the information that you consider to be the most valuable.  And that they leave your site only after having made a purchase!

 


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