Why should you care about usable digital content? We’re not just creating a call to action. The goal here is to help you understand and create usable digital content that is highly valued.
What does “usable” content really mean when it comes to communicating on social media, or your company intranet, website, or blog?
Usable content is the productive element of the content formula. Content that is full of energy and efficient will be valuable to you and your audience.
If you’re like most people, you spend an hour or more a day reading email and digital content on social media. What you end up reading is usually not quality content. When was the last time you said after reading an article, that content was informative, creative, friendly, significant, or usable?
There are many content development techniques but these five will spark your creativity and hopefully your readers’ interests.
5 Techniques on Creating Usable Digital Content
Organize content into logical chunks
When you organize content in a logical order, you create a natural flow for readers. Readers will be able to pick among those chunks that are most relevant to them. The bottom line is you’re saving the reader’s time and your time as well in creating logically organized content.
Organizing your content starts with an outline. Ask some of the best writers whether they create an outline.
List your ideas and create categories of information. You can expand on any one idea within a section or category. Look for related ideas and organize your content accordingly.
Example: These tips are organized so that each one is a logical chunk of information and related ideas are easy to understand: Organization, length, hook, and so on.
Think of organizing your content like an orchestra, where each section will be different and is set up according to what type of instrument.
Tip: Your chunk or section of digital content can be spun off to create a separate topic of interest. See the video example next.
Align content length with purpose
Video. Have you clicked away from a video link simply because it was too long? Learn to create video content in three minute segments (or less). A longer piece signals multiple steps, a complex process, or a new concept to justify listening to—and the reader will make that decision depending on the purpose of the subject matter.
Example: See LinkedIn Learning example where video length ran between one and four minutes per section for this Disruptive Innovation course by Whitney Johnson.
White papers and essays. Be considerate to let readers decide whether to read more now or later. Produce an executive summary or synopsis, and take it a step further by posting the read time; for example, 3 minutes. Then create a separate full length document as a PDF download or web page link called Full Length and post the reading time as well, for example, 25 minutes (depending on the complexity of concepts you’re conveying).
Longer vs shorter blog posts. There are no specific guidelines for blogs except to consider search engine optimization (SEO) that favors longer authoritative pieces.
Long example: Authoritative posts may run 1000 to 2000 words, which you’ll see on leadership blogs like Harvard Business Review. Often these blog posts are authored by 2 or more people.
Short example: Blog post length may be shorter, at lengths of 300 – 600 words, when company blogs are used for announcements or supporting a service. Zendesk, a customer service software, announced on its blog about a new guide to great customer service on social media and the post word count was 350 words. A full guide link was provided at the end of their post, which aligns with the explanation for white papers (full length) described above.
Create a better snippet to hook reader
A snippet is like a gold nugget. Just like the word implies, a snippet is an extract of the content. The snippet needs to contain a hook to appeal to the reader and answer the question, why should they read your content.
The snippet is displayed in search results or wherever the content link has been shared on social networks. People decide whether to read the content based on the snippet or headline.
Snippets are automatically created by the web page or blog template. For example, the first 55 words is part of the snippet using a WordPress template. So, when you’re using an automatic snippet you have to make sure the first paragraph tells the reader exactly what they should expect.
Automatic vs Manual Snippet: Another way to control how the first paragraph is displayed in search results is to see whether your software gives you an option to manually enter an excerpt or snippet.
Example: See the example below of a manually generated snippet from Travel & Leisure Milan Travel Guide. Compare the article’s first couple of sentences (click on the link to Travel & Leisure) and you can see the beginning text of the article was not utilized in the snippet. The manual excerpt or snippet overrides the automatic snippet.
Tip: Consider the first two or three sentences of your email as a snippet. When your reader uses a summary view of their email program, maybe that is the only part of the message that will be read and hopefully remembered.
Show me, don’t tell me
Let’s suppose you’ve created a great recipe for grilling a steak. Do you think you’re writing about a steak? Think again. Show me how it sizzles so I’ll be hungry for steak and download your grilling recipe.
How can you bring your digital content to life? Show me what I need to know and do. For example, the snippet and excerpt content as shown above is meaningful because you see a picture, you read where the snippet is captured, and then how to give it legs—to help the snippet content be successful and live on for a long time.
If you’re an instructor, you may have heard the expression that happens to be the title of a popular book, Telling Ain’t Training. This concept is about making your content interactive so your students or readers become engaged and experience the lesson for themselves. Use examples and exercises.
Let’s try this example exercise of interactive content.
Two-person example: This example exercise is designed to do with a partner.
Ask each other the following question, each time, until 10 different answers are given. Each answer will lead you to get deeper into your feelings.
What do you want? (What do you want to be, do, and have?)
The partner says the question out loud each time before your next answer is given.
Allow one person at a time to take a turn until answering at least 10 different answers.
Explain to readers why they should care
Do people want to know why should they care — about what they’re reading or listening to? ‘People believe what you believe,’ says Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.
Let’s review a couple of examples why readers should care.
Example: Sinek believes in a world where people should wake up feeling inspired to go to work.
Example: I believe everyone should achieve success through caring and love for fellow mankind.
When people understand “why” should they care, their emotional trigger says yes, I believe what you believe. Usable digital content is valuable for you and readers.
They may forget what you said – but they will never forget how you made them feel. – Carl W. Buehner
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