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The "Compelling Headlines & Scannable Content" Lesson is part of the full, Web UX Design for High Converting Websites course featured in this preview video. Here's what you'd learn in this lesson:

Paul shares tools and techniques for headline writing and creating scannable content. Tools like Grammarly or Hemingway are helpful for flagging the overuse of adverbs, passive voice, or sentences which are hard to read. Content with a more human feeling will be easier for users to scan.

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Transcript from the "Compelling Headlines & Scannable Content" Lesson

[00:00:00]
>> So with that in mind, let's get back into the topic of our content and the creation of our content. As you may remember, we were talking about content blocks and that every content block is gonna have a heading, a smooth description. Normally in my experience, about 160 characters, something like that.

[00:00:20] So quite short and snappy. An optional link to more information if you want it and an option or image if it's appropriate. Now the question is, how do you write a good heading? How do you write a good description? And that is as much an art as a science, if I'm honest.

[00:00:38] And it's something that only comes with practice and with testing in order to work out what works and what doesn't. But there are some advice that I can give you about creating good headings and good body copy, and some tools that might potentially help as well. So let's talk about creating compelling headlines.

[00:01:01] One of the tools that I use to kind of help me think about the structure of my headlines is CoSchedule's headline analyzer. If you do a quick Google on CoSchedule and headline analyzer, it will come back and you can try it out for yourself. It's a free tool, at least to try out initially.

[00:01:23] Now, I'm not saying that you should use this as the ultimate tool for creating headlines, but it's rather guidance. It gets you thinking in the right kind of ways. And what it does is effectively analyze a variety of different factors associated with the headline you're creating. And it will then incorporate that and take that data and turn it into a score, so it will score your headlines.

[00:01:51] Now the score is only limited use really. But what it does is it breaks down how it went about producing that score. It will talk about things like the kinds of words you use. The kinds of style of headline it was. The kind of length of it. It's scanability.

[00:02:10] All these different factors that kind of help shape your headlines and create them. So, for example, if you wanna create a compelling headline, you wanna use some emotional words or power words, which are a particular wordings that tends to gain people's attention and interest. So for example, something like success is a word that tends to kind of grab us and pull us in.

[00:02:35] It also looks at things like sentiment. Do you wanna go negative in the way that you're speaking? Or do you wanna remain positive? I generally heavily favor positive headlines because when you start looking at negative headlines, again, you start to more and more move into the world of dark patterns.

[00:02:54] So by way of example, let's look at some different headline types. You can use fear, right? You can talk about not getting left behind. But then again, what we're doing is, we're using negative factors and connotations in order to motivate people, which almost always backfires and is bad.

[00:03:17] I always look in my copy to build people up, but not to pull them down. So another example which goes back to the whole conversation we were having about the dieting app that I mentioned earlier, is guilt, right? A lot of people write headlines that use guilt in order to encourage people to make decisions.

[00:03:40] And all of these kinds of approaches are not really very uplifting. They're not building up the user. They're not creating a positive brand impression. And in my opinion, should be avoided. Yes they will provide short term conversion boosts, but the health of the long term brand reputation and just customer satisfaction and things like that.

[00:04:05] But there are headlines you can use that have got emotional weight to them that are much more positive. Trust, right? Headlines that talk about no hidden costs or really emphasize how you're trustworthy and reliable. Get trusted by big brands such as, those kinds of things. That's much more positive in its tone and tends to resonate with people much better.

[00:04:30] Then there are ones that focus on value. You won't find a better deal anywhere. So people like the idea that they're getting value from the transaction in the interaction. You've got headlines that talk about the competition. Again, this one's a bit of a gray one because you can play this in a fun way, like be the envy of your neighbors, quite tongue in cheek.

[00:04:55] But also, it could quite easily turn negative if you let it. So you've gotta be a little bit careful with that. Gonna have headlines that emphasize senses of belonging, join today to find out what people have been talking about. So the idea of community and belonging, which is a big motivator for people.

[00:05:14] Instant rewards, everybody loves an instant reward. So speak to us today for instant peace of mind or to instant access or that kind of thing. Can have headings that talk about build you up as a leader or as an innovator or as an early adopter. Those kinds of things, which resonates with certain groups.

[00:05:34] And then you can talk about time, saving people time. Time is, so when I was talking about performance, I was saying how impatient people are. And it's because people value their time these days. When you're writing a value proposition or anything like that, if you emphasize that you can save people time, they tend to respond extremely well to it.

[00:05:58] Those are just a random set of examples to kinda get you thinking as you write your copy, to provide some kind of emotional content behind there as well. Now again, you have to find the balance here. Find what is right for your audience. So things like AB testing work really well on headlines to find out what resonates.

[00:06:23] Because we don't wanna annoy people. We don't want to make them feel manipulated or out of place. So for example, very hugely my audience for example on my own website are very digitally savvy, they're very tech savvy. And to be honest, they're very cynical, right? And so I have to really be careful not to push these kinds of, rely too heavily on emotion because it actually alienates my audience.

[00:06:52] But with a different audience, that's what they want. They want to feel engaged and listened to and have an emotional connection there. That's why user research is so important. But let's talk about some practicalities, to move away a little bit from the kind of marketing side of content to some of the more practical side of things.

[00:07:13] For a start, let's talk about content scannability. As we've already said, right? Most people do not read your copy, they scan it. And so we wanna facilitate that and enable that and make our content as scannable as possible. And there are essentially two ways we can do this.

[00:07:31] One is how we structure our content and the other is how we write our content. I'll come to structure in a little bit, but let's talk about writing your content. Writing for the web is different because people are just scanning through it very quickly. And that means that it needs to be incredibly simple and very easy to scan through.

[00:07:55] And there are certain things we can do to achieve that. So for example, we can avoid using jargon or unfamiliar terminology. But we can also use shorter sentence structures. And we can avoid too many adverbs and things like that. Now if like me, you're not particularly good at doing that kind of stuff naturally, then instead what you can do is, you can use a tool like Hemingway app.

[00:08:22] And Hemingway app is a free online tool that you can use. You enter your content into it, it scans it. It makes suggestions about how you can shorten it and improve it and make it more scannable. It'll also give you a readability level and tell you whether that is good or not good.

[00:08:39] So it's a really good sanity checker for the copy that you write. And there are other tools out there like that for example, I use Grammarly a lot. But what I like about Hemingway app is that it's very much designed for reading on the web. It's quite aggressive in its suggestions and quite unforgiving about things like long sentences or lots of conjunctions.

[00:09:01] So lots of ands and commas and things like that. So just run your draft copy through that and you'll find that it'll become a lot more scannable and easy to digest. But it's not just about writing in plain language and being as concise as possible. It's also about how we then structure that information.

[00:09:23] There's a lot of usability experts that will tell you that your copy has to be short, right? And that isn't strictly true, okay? It has to be concise, but that's two different things, right? Concise is, it's got to be as short as it can be and still get the point across.

[00:09:49] And sometimes you need more words to be able to explain something. Is just the nature of the beast, right? And so don't be afraid to do that. But what you need to avoid is copy that includes what Steve Kruger in his book, Don't Want Me Think called, happy talk.

[00:10:05] And that's content that doesn't really add any value. But it's things like hey, welcome to our site and stuff like that, which just doesn't help answer anybody's questions. See, remove that kind of thing. And also remove repetition. So when we're trying to convince somebody in an argument, we often say the same thing in slightly different ways in the hope that one of those things will land with people.

[00:10:28] But actually online, that just creates noise that people have to struggle and process pushing their cognitive load up putting them in the worst mood, that means that less likely to convert. So be to the point, but that doesn't mean you need to be super short. However, if you are producing more copy, right?

[00:10:47] If maybe you're given a lot of copy to work with and you don't have the freedom to shorten it. Or if it's just appropriate for there to be more copy, what you then need to do is structure that content in such a way as to aid scannability. So by way of an example, here's one of my blog posts.

[00:11:11] And my blog posts are, if you look at them, use lots of headings, lots of bullet points, lots of pull out quotes. So I highlight different bits of content. Also that someone could just scan down the page, look at the various headlines, get a feel for what that paragraph or that section is gonna be about.

[00:11:29] And then maybe scan a few lines if they feel that it's relevant to them. I grab their attention with things like pull out quotes and highlights. Everything is built around the fact that someone is just gonna scan this page and look at different bits as they go along.

[00:11:45] So break your content down. We'll get into this more about actually how to do this when we talk about design. But for now, you can take any piece of content and make it a lot easier to consume and scan simply by breaking it up, chunking it, adding highlights, that kind of thing.

[00:12:05] So that's about making it scannable. The other piece of advice I would give you, which I mentioned when we were talking about building trust earlier, is to make your copy more human. Now you may remember I shared with you a little bit of text, which I compared to Silence of the Lambs.

[00:12:20] Which said, as well as insurance students make the most of their potential through their academic studies, the University of Essex also provides an environment which caters for all the needs of its students through providing a range of accommodation, catering facilities, an active students union, sports and the arts.

[00:12:37] That is a terrible piece of text. I said earlier, it's terrible because it used the third person rather than first person. So it talked about the University of Essex rather than we. It talked about the students rather than you. But it's also bad because it's a one sentence and it's really hard to scan.

[00:12:57] There is nothing good about this. So I thought by way of an example let me very quickly rewrite it. Student life is about more than just studying. We support you with everything you're looking for or you'll be looking for. From accommodation and catering through to an active student union, great sports facilities, and an engaging arts program.

[00:13:19] So there's a couple of things that I've done there. One is, obviously, I've changed the students to you and university to we. But also I've done more than that. I've broken it down so that it's multiple sentences. And the very beginning of that sentence notice that I say, student life is about more than just studying, which effectively sums up everything that follows.

[00:13:43] Now that's called front loading. It's getting to the point quickly. And then basically I could go even further than this. And where it says we support you with everything you'll be looking for. Then where it says accommodations, catering, active student use, sports and an arts program. You could have those as bullets, which would make it even more scannable.

[00:14:07] So you can take the same piece of content, say the same thing in a more concise easier way of scanning it. And that is what your clients and your stakeholders and your marketing execs and all of the other people you're dealing with do not understand very well, generally speaking.

[00:14:25] And this is what you can bring to the table as you work with them on creating their websites. That you can contribute with content, even if content isn't really the thing that you do. And you have a fundamental role play in educating stakeholders and your clients. And also maybe producing the first draft of your content.

[00:14:48] Another thing.
>> Sorry, I would say for developers who are wanting to upgrade their career and whenever, writing blog posts and getting used to writing, is just incredibly important for developing your career. As well as if you're ever wanting to sell courses and all those kinds of things.

[00:15:11] Developers speaking to other developers is really the only way that that's gonna happen. Whereas when you're speaking to that audience, you kind of have to have empathy for that audience.
>> Absolutely, and I started blogging in 2005. And I started writing content to share with my peers, to share with other people what I was doing, what I was learning.

[00:15:38] And I was rubbish at writing, right? I failed GCSE English. I'm just not particularly good at that, my spelling and my grammar is atrocious. But by only blogging, by sharing my experiences, I got comfortable with writing. Even if it wasn't very good and if you can still to this day go back and read some of my early blog posts and they're terrible.

[00:16:06] But it got me comfortable with writing. And then over time, you begin to learn certain patterns that work better with people. So experiment, try it out, learn it for yourself. If you wanna promote a little side project you've got. Trying these techniques and you'll be amazed at the difference it makes to people's level of engagement.

[00:16:29] To the feedback that you get, and to the number of people taking action.