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.
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