— Tara on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”
Pardon the plug for my favorite television-show, but I thought of the humorous quote when I read a recent post by Rob Starr at Blogging Tips on what tone bloggers should use when writing:
First of all you need to take into account studies have shown our collective attention span has become shorter over the years so that means that people in general can only process smaller bits of information… So that means in the context of Web content that you want to write in shorter paragraphs and sentences…
For example when you are writing web content the simple word is the one you should always choose over the more elaborate model. Usually you will find that the simple word is the one that has a clear and concise meaning. You should also use the inverted pyramid style as another left over from the print journalism years because it allows readers to get to the information that’s most important quickly because you’re placing it at the top of the article.
I posted a comment at Starr’s site, and I thought I would expand upon the thoughts here. I agree — and disagree. It’s a subtle issue.
How to Establish New Blogs
As a former Boston newspaper-editor, I will be the first to agree that mainstream, general-interest publications are written at a sixth- or eighth-grade level (depending on whom one asks). But the practice is a result of marketing demographics. If the point is to reach as many people as possible, one needs to ensure that as many people as possible understand the articles.
Still, the theory is only partly true in practice. The Boston Globe, for example, markets itself towards educated, affluent readers in the suburbs of Massachusetts. The readers of the Boston Herald, on the other hand, tend to be blue-collar, working-class people in the city. As a result, the broadsheet Globe’s writing-style is at a higher level than that of the tabloid Herald. Every publication plays to its demographics.
Now, should bloggers and other online writers strive to emulate the Globe or Herald? Well, it depends.
If your corporate website sells the latest pop-music to teenage girls, then you’ll want to write like the Herald — short, simple, and sweet. But if your website covers, say, biotechnology, you’ll want to write like the Globe (or at even a higher level). Complex writing will seem boring to the first demographic, but simple language will not professional to the latter.
At Considerations, my journalistic blog, the most-popular posts — in terms of online traffic and social-media sharing — have usually been those that are lengthy, complex analyses of issues like dating, economics, and the Middle East rather than shorter, pithy articles on pop culture. The reason is obvious: My readers there expect a higher level of posts as a result of my journalism background and the issues I cover. Longer can be better — for the right audience — in an online world in which “content is king.”
If there is one theme that I can never repeat often enough, it is that website optimization is more than just SEO keywords — it is knowing everything about your target market: their education, income, times of online activity, social-media preferences, and so on. Every decision made in regards to a corporate website or online blog needs to take these factors into account. The Internet vast increased the rate of market segmentation — rather than a single mass-audience, the world now consists of a near-infinite number of small, specific ones.
Google understood this principle long before most people (and other search-engines), and it is one reason why the company has become so successful. From Adwords to PPC to Places, Google is increasingly targeting smaller and smaller demographics to increase the accuracy of its search-results. And now, the company has added “reading level” to its online filters (via Search-Engine Journal):
…the tool certainly has a great number of applications, ranging from finding content appropriate for advanced studies, filtering through results for technically oriented phrases for introductory content, or even helping users who are new to the language of the content being read.
Samuel J. Scott, a former journalist in Boston turned Internet marketer in Israel, is the founder and publisher of My SEO Software and Director of Digital Marketing and Communications and SEO Team Leader at The Cline Group. You can follow him at Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. His views here and elsewhere do not necessarily reflect those of his company and clients.