It’s easy to write user-friendly content, right? Well, maybe not so fast in nodding yes because a lot of content is written each day.
The best estimates are that there is – I hope you are sitting down – 2.5 quintillion bytes of content produced every day. Wow! That is huge. In fact, it’s so huge that I have no idea how much it is.
How much would you bet that a lot of it is not all that user-friendly, give or take a quintillion?
Your content can be user-friendly. All it takes is to speak the language your users speak.
Speak Your User’s Language – Literally
Let’s start with the obvious. If your users speak Bulgarian, write in Bulgarian. Can we all agree on that?
Since I am writing in English, let’s assume that I am writing to an English-speaking (English-reading?) audience.
Ah, but what kind of English?
Seriously, there is more than one kind of English. Web developer Phillip Dews asked about this when commenting on one of my blog posts:
As a British Blogger, I like to write what we Brits refer to as The Queens English which may at times confuse you Americans. For instance, we like to use MATHS instead of MATH or another example is PAVEMENT instead of SIDEWALK. Should I make these distinctions clear to my American readers of which I do have quite a few now?”~Phillip Dews
As a Canadian blogger myself, writing to a primarily US audience, I get it. So, I responded, summarizing that:
My advice is to write for your main audience and make no excuses.”~David Leonhardt
Speak Your User’s Language – Practically
But there is more than one English even in the United States. I am not referring to regional accents, but more to the circles people move in. Young people use different vocabulary than older people. City slang is different from how the uptown crowd speaks. Pros use different language than laypeople.
Let me give you a great example from 2016. That was when Zika disease was the pandemic-du-jour. I had to write web pages directed at medical professionals, including virologists, epidemiologists, and lab technicians. On other pages I wrote, I addressed travelers and other worried laypeople.
As you can guess, the language they used was very different. For instance, did you know that Zika disease cannot be given to you by mosquito bites? This misconception is wrong in four ways:
- Mosquitos don’t bite. They stick a needle in you and draw your blood out through the needle.
- Mosquitos don’t give you Zika disease. They give you the Zika virus, which in turn gives you Zika disease.
- Mosquitos aren’t even givers. They are “vectors.”
- Finally, it’s not just any mosquito that serves as a vector; it’s the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Precision of language, please!
At which point you are probably saying: “For goodness sake, David. You catch Zika disease through mosquito bites.”
This is why that is precisely the language I used on the pages meant for laypeople. If I had been 100% accurate on the pages for laypeople, they would have reacted with a collective “Huh?” Accuracy and clarity are not the same things.
But I had to be 100% scientifically accurate on the page for medical professionals. “Catching Zika disease through mosquito bites” would have been confusing because it would not have made sense to them.
So, know your audience.
Use Plain Language to Write User-Friendly Content
Once you have determined the right literal and practical languages to use, write in plain English.
Yes, use plain language even for those vector-loving, needle-sticking medical professionals. There are times when you need to use a whole lot of big words. For instance, when you are naming committees and commissions. Or when you are referring to the reports and inquiries they produce.
That doesn’t mean you need to use big words around those words. You can balance the long and the short words.
That also doesn’t mean you have to write convoluted sentences. Remember, you want to write user-friendly content!
And that doesn’t mean you can’t use simple terms to refer to those bodies and their reports. For instance, after naming a report once, you can refer to it as “the report” for the rest of your article.
I wrote a plain language guide for you to use. It contains 51 tips to make your writing clearer for every reader, whether their diploma comes from Harvard or Jiffy Tattoo Training.
Listen To What Their Searches Tell You
The wonderful thing about the Internet is that so much data is available. You can find out exactly what people search for and optimize your content for that.
Google Trends can help you compare the popularity of two terms, such as “personal growth” and “personal development.” Whichever is used more is the term you want to use more on your web pages.
But you don’t want to lose lesser-used terms. Instead, you want to use lots of other related terms that people actually use. Text Optimizer can help you find out which words the search engines associate with your main search term.
Why optimize for the most popular term? More customers. A bigger audience. Fame, gold, and endless fairy godmothers.
Why include lesser, related terms? That’s how Google understands what your main term is about.
With all the different meanings of “book,” for instance, you want to make sure Google understands whether you are talking about reading or hotel reservations. Or about a police arrest. The other words you use on your page should help Google figure that out. That’s why Google created semantic search.
As a bonus, we’ll all be better Scrabble players.
Write For Users and Become Their Idol
It doesn’t take much to please your readers. They found your website; they want to read it. Give them something to read that they will understand easily, without having to hesitate while their brain tries to figure it out.
Dr Shivangi Singhal says
An enjoyable read. You explained the true meaning of user-friendly content in depth. Examples given are apt and allow the reader to understand what you want to explain. Learnt about the new tool, Text Optimizer. Thank you!
kamil qureshi says
Nice article, User-friendly-ness is really a necessity because, with every google update, it’s becoming harder and harder to maintain rankings.
Sue-Ann Bubacz says
Thank you, Kamil. David did a great job explaining this is truly a necessity for readers and Google, too, now that you mention it!
Thanks for taking time to comment, Sue-Ann
Mohit Bhargav says
The first time I’ve been here…
This post is very well thought out! I really enjoyed reading your article.
Thank you and keep these informative articles coming
Ryan Biddulph says
Writing in plain English is a simple way to make posts user friendly. Speak directly to people and they will be able to understand you easily. Making things complex only mucks everything up. Fabulous post.
David Leonhardt says
Thanks, Ryan. I guess it helps to think of the reader as a real person – we sometimes forget that on the Internet.
Phillip Dews says
I thought it about time that I should leave my two pennies worth.
First of all thank you so much for using my comment as an example David and having a link back to my website, that’s greatly appreciated.
As Lisa alluded to above it’s simplicity that is the key. We want our content to be read by as many people as possible.
Over the past decade or so I have learned a lot about how to explain to clients in plain language features of their websites I have developed for them without using the ‘techno speak’ most of us WebDevs use all the time.
Finally I’m on a kind of mission to teach you Americans ‘The Queens English’ and I have hours of fun over Skype calls with people like my friend and sometime business partner Debi Norton by having silly mock arguments over the wordings of the English language and some of the mannerisms you guys do like the two fingered salute that’s meant to represent the #2 but what us Brits find highly offensive.
There we go. That’s my two pennies (oh sorry I meant to say two cents) worth.
It was good being here and thank you all again for the link back.
David Leonhardt says
You are welcome. But why don’t we compromise and all speak Shakespeare’s English?
Yash Patel says
Ahhh! That’s something the best and the most basic Blogging Advice that every blogger should follow – Write for Your Readers.
I always try to follow a simple rule – whenever I’m confused while writing, I put my feet in the reader’s shoes. I just ask myself – What word I would have liked more if I were reading this somewhere on the Internet? I always go with my answer.
But, I’m surely gonna try the above-mentioned techniques and platforms.
Thanks for sharing this wonderful article!
Sue-Ann Bubacz says
Thanks for sharing your experience, Yash.
For me, reading aloud usually serves as a good double-check for smooth and understandable writing.
It’s also an ongoing study for me to learn to get in the readers’ heads (or shoes) but I keep trying:)
Thank you again for taking the time to stop,
Erika Mohssen-Beyk says
Easier said than done; what should I do? English is not my native language and I do not know many of the terms. I usually rely on Grammarly for help. Seeing the text optimizer, but where to put these words? And is it then authentic me? Good that I am not interested in writing for Google 🙂 I always thought, whoever needs it will find me.
But I can see that even English-speaking people have difficulties. That makes a better feeling for me.
Thank you to make me aware.
David Leonhardt says
Being a native speaker obviously makes it easier. But not everybody who writes is a writer. Scientists write. Architects write. Everybody writes. But that does not mean they are good writers. I can “do science”, but that does not make me a good scientist.
Working in a second language just makes it harder. There are strategies to deal with this.
One is to write in your native language, if possible.
A second is to stick to what you know really well because you probably can write much better about that than about topics you might know less about, especially since you would know the vocabulary.
A third option is to hire a writer.
A fourth option is to load up on software and hope that it works for you. I saw two examples of writing that was based on Jasper. The how-to piece was not to bad. The fiction piece was downright horrible. So, software can sometimes be helpful, but be careful. Google Translate, although MUCH better than it used to be, is still infamous for getting most things right and a few things very, very wrong.
Lisa Sicard says
Hi David and Sue-Ann, I love using simple language to write. It’s easier for the readers to understand. I know, if I read a post and I don’t know what a word means, I usually don’t want to take the time to look it up.
Plain, simple, and to the point makes a statement! I’ve started using the Text Optimizer and love it. An easy tool to be able to use. Thanks for sharing about this David on Sue-Ann’s blog.
Sue-Ann Bubacz says
Simple isn’t always as easy as it looks! lol I think you do clear and simple language pretty darn well, Lisa, while I have to work at it! Thanks, as always, for your ongoing kind support and friendship:) Take care and talk soon. Truly, Sue-Ann
Lisa Sicard says
You are most welcome Sue-Ann!
David Leonhardt says
Not only won’t you look it up, but if you keep having to stop to think “What does this mean?” or even slow down to process several sentences, you probably won’t keep reading. As non-fiction writers, it’s our job to make information as clear as possible to as many readers as possible.