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How do you keep clients reading your content?

One of the best ways of attracting potential clients is to have them engage with your firm through your website content, notably articles and blogs. But how do you ensure your content is engaging?  Examine the writing style of top bloggers like Seth Godin and you may be surprised by the answer, says internet psychologist Graham Jones

Each of us is in competition for readers for our websites. Whether you have a highly active website with hundreds of posts per minute – like Facebook – or whether you run a one-page sales letter website that hasn’t changed in years, what you want are readers. But there is so much content to read these days, we are all spoilt for choice. No-one has to read your ‘stuff’. They can depart from your web page and read something else if they are not engaged with what you are saying,

So, how can we engage those readers and get them to stick with us instead of going elsewhere? This was a question that came up in a discussion this week during a workshop I was running in London for a major energy company. Not only were they trying to get more people to stick with their blogs and web pages, but there was internal competition too, with different departments wanting to retain readers.

Inevitably it was easy to agree that writing something that interests the reader is essential. But, as people said on the workshop, there are vast amounts of material online that are the kind of thing we want to read, but we do not stick with it. Why?

The answer to that is the quality of the writing. Far too much stuff online is poorly written. At one extreme web pages are written in ‘business speak’, with formal language that is jargon-heavy. At the other, the material appears to be written by someone who never went to school. Somewhere in the middle is a writing style that engages. But what is it? More importantly, can you learn it and adapt your own style to suit, making your web content more engaging as a result?

Top bloggers’ secret revealed

The answer is found in a recent study that compared the writing styles of the world’s top bloggers. Amongst the people studied were the marketing expert Seth Godin, the new media author David Meerman Scott and the social media consultant, Chris Brogan. Between them, they have millions of readers every day and attract thousands of comments on their blogs. Clearly people are engaged with what they write.

The study found that the top bloggers tended to have some similarities. Their writing was made up of short sentences. Mostly, these writers had sentences of less than 20 words, with their average being 17 words per sentence. Furthermore, they had short paragraphs. On average, these top writers had only two sentences per paragraph.

Other studies of writing styles show similar results. For instance, J K Rowling wrote Harry Potter using an average of 11.8 words per sentence. The hugely popular Twilight series of books are written in an average of just 9.7 words per sentence.

There is clearly a link between the number of words per sentence and the number of sentences in a paragraph that is crucial to engaging your readers. Indeed, grammar checking software calculates part of its score based on words per sentence and sentences per paragraph. This is also a crucial measure in assessing your ‘reading age’.

Engaging material has a reading age of around 11-years-old. Whenever a client asks me to review their website, I assess its reading age. Mostly, the websites I have assessed have a reading age of 18 or more. You need to be a graduate, with plenty of time on your hands and no distractions to read them. They are like text books.

Writing in short sentences and having few sentences in each paragraph is not ‘dumbing down’. It is making your material engaging. If you want to engage more readers, start writing as though your text was going to be read by an 11-year-old.


Visit the Graham Jones website

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