May 2022

Content design - expert tips and tricks

by Linda Bailey

What is content design?

Content design isn’t just about writing words/copywriting, it’s about finding out what your customers need to know, and how they want to hear it. Here's a few things to consider:

  • Might images, diagrams, or videos best meet these needs, rather than just text?
  • If you need to rank/convert better, how do you utilise SEO keywords?
It’s about finding the balance between your customers' needs and desires, then crafting well-considered content to meet your business goals.

Why content design is important.

We’re constantly bombarded with content, so how do you stand out in the crowd and then make sure your content is actually read?

Well here are a few tips and tricks to get you on your way.

How customers view your content.

If we’re creating content that needs to convert, then it’s important to have an understanding of how people view content. 

We scan

We don’t simply read one word in a sentence and move on to the next. Our eyes jump about all over the place in ‘saccades’. This means we jump about and go back and forth. Landing on a word or image is called a ‘fixation’ and it’s only here we take in information.

We don’t read an entire web page either, we also scan down the page. How we scan content depends on what we’re there to do and also what's going on around us in the physical world. If there are poor headings and bullets for example then we’ll largely read in an ‘F shape’. 

 

 
Other patterns are:
  • Spotted - fixating on specific areas that stand out.
  • Layer-cake - fixation mostly on headings and subheadings.
  • Commitment - which I hope is what you’re doing right now, reading everything on the page.

Here’s the cool part...Your brain makes up the info in between. Yep, we make stuff up!

Comic designers use this to good effect in something called ‘closure’.

We read a small % of what's there

In fact, according to research, people read on average approx. 20-28% of a page.

Cognitive load (mental effort of taking in information)
increases 11% for every 100 words.

This means being brutal with cutting down your content. Be concise as possible. If you want people to take in your message, the fewer words the better. 

How to design good content

Here are some general pointers:

Start with research

Good content design starts with research. For that, you’ll get the best results from a professional, either a content designer or a UX designer/researcher.

If you’re going it alone, then a good business should have an understanding of who its target audience is. Your research could start with building a profile of your customers:

  • wants

  • needs

  • goals

  • pains

  • stories.

....Then write for them.

A good rule of thumb: always have your customer at the centre of all you do.

Have a style guide

Consistency is key, it gives your business a strong, cohesive voice.

Align your case, tense and grammar to put your best foot forward.

Outline your ‘tone of voice’

Your tone of voice is how you present yourself and reflects your brand personality.

A good way of defining this is by using NN Group’sThe four dimensions of tone of voice'.

Here’s our tone of voice!

Have a strategy

What’s the objective for this content, what’s your goal?

Simply pick one and stick to it.

Write the content

Remembering that people scan, we can craft content to help them, while getting across the information we want:

  • Have a solid structure with clear headings and subheadings.

  • Front-load’ the most important information.

  • Use bullet points to break up information.

  • Bold text can also help with scanning, but use it sparingly.

  • Avoid jargon.

  • Use plain English.

  • Aim for a reading age of grade 9.

This isn’t about the intelligence of your audience, it helps:

  • People with busy lifestyles.
  • Those on mobile who might have distractions
  • Level of expectation in getting information quickly.
  • Keep sentences brief.

The ‘Oxford guide to plain English’ recommends 15–20 words per sentence.

This doesn’t mean you need to be short or abrupt, we still need to inject personality and be approachable. For this, go back to your tone of voice.

Also consider that the optimal line length for your body text is 50-60 characters per line, including spaces.

Design the content with text areas to accommodate this.

It’s here where we also factor in SEO keywords. The skills here are taking these required words and crafting them into your headings and body text, whilst adhering to all other points. 

Referencing

Making claims on facts, or perhaps quoting people/research?


Then add the references to your work, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it shows credibility and open-mindedness.

Give customers what they want

Gone are the days of Mad Men and the old hard marketing sell.

We know that consumers are more conscious (and suspicious) than ever before. Customers seek trust and authenticity from organisations.

Write from your customers perspective

People also want to know what’s in it for them, what do they get from this transaction.

Rather than saying:

we do this, we do that

try:

you’ll benefit from this and you’ll get that

It’s ‘push’ Vs ‘pull content’. 

Make it inclusive

Another good rule of thumb is to check your biases and make sure your content is inclusive. We’re all guilty of having cognitive biases, it’s human nature.

A common mistake is to write ‘he’ and ‘his’ by default. Unless you’re targeting a specific audience, then you’ll do well to avoid gendered pronouns at all.

Using ‘they’ ‘them’ ensures that your content is inclusive to all and doesn’t alienate any demographic. See our blog post on accessibility to learn more about this.


Make it actionable

If you’re writing for your customer, then use action-based language. Writing with actionable language encourages your customers to take an action.

E.g.Click here to learn more about xxxxx

Be honest and clear, focus on their perspective, show the value, and guide them with what to do / where to go.

Draft, review, refine

Always get someone else to read your work, check for errors, that it’s aligned to your brand and meets the goal you set out to do!

Repeat this process as many times as necessary.

UX writers

User experience writing has gained a lot of traction, with a greater need for businesses to craft strong content on digital media.

These tips are just a few approaches that a UX designer might use, alongside their toolkit of design principles:

  • Using specific verbs whenever possible e.g. ‘connect’ or ‘save’.
  • Choosing labels that clearly communicate what the object does. e.g buttons that say ‘click here to get your report’.
  • Using language that’s consistent with the user’s platform, e.g. not using ‘click’ on mobile.

  • Not using directional language because of responsive design - E.g. see example on the right.

  • Using progressive (disclosing) information to not overwhelm users upfront.

… and many more approaches that make interacting with digital media easy and useful for your customers.

Drop us a line for more information about how we might use our UX writing and content design expertise to help advance your digital media and engage your customers.

Get In Touch

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Linda Bailey

Diverting from a career in Architecture, Linda uses the left and right side of her brain equally. She's been with Honest Fox from the beginning and is involved in all facets of the business. She's empathetic and kind and loves punk music.

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