Is your on-page content accessible? We all want to create great content that ranks for keywords, but even SEO copy should always prioritise being helpful to the reader. In fact, one of Google’s leading guidelines on copy is that your content should be interesting and useful. Hitting keywords is great, and vital for improving site visibility and ranking. But if your content isn’t helping users, they’ll bounce right off the page. That’s why creating content that’s accessible is so important.
It can be easy to go over the top and write impressive-sounding copy. But if your audience will struggle to read it, even beautifully written content doesn’t help your end goal. Here are my top tips for creating accessible content that anyone can read and enjoy.
Remember who you’re writing for
Up to 16 million adults in the UK have the reading and writing skills equivalent to the level of an 11 year old or younger. That’s almost half of the workforce – and chances are some of those people will be reading your copy. Which is why it’s important to keep your content simple so everyone can understand it!
Obviously, you should use your best judgement. If you’re writing for a client with readers who are likely to understand more complex language, feel free to break out your complex sentences and semicolons. If you’re writing for a technical client and you’re pretty sure the people who use their site will understand the trade jargon, then feel free to use it. But otherwise, use the US Navy’s famous KISS slogan: Keep it simple, stupid.
Keep it simple
And on that point, a quick test: which of these two sentences is easiest to understand?
- While it’s sometimes acceptable to create a longer and more varied sentence, you might find that your audience’s attention is increasingly likely to wander unless you keep your sentence structure brief.
- Make your sentences simple and short to keep a reader’s attention.
In most cases, a reader is going to pick the second sentence. Now, that’s not to say that a complex sentence isn’t sometimes the right choice. Varying your sentence length is how you create a sense of rhythm in your writing. (One of my all time favourite examples of this is ‘This sentence has five words’ by Gary Provost, a must-read for copywriters.)
That first example above has multiple possessives, adverbs and subclauses that make it hard for people to understand. That’s as much as we copywriters love a semicolon, it’s best to avoid complex grammar and dense sentences.
All that being said, no one knows your brief or your copy as well as you do. So if you feel you can use a more complicated sentence structure, go for it! Just remember that a messy sentence can happen to the best of us.
Break it down
It’s not just about your sentence length. A reader should be able to glance at your entire piece of copy and scan it to easily pick up the point of the content. You can do this by breaking down your content into manageable chunks and sections.
The best ways to break up your content:
- Use paragraph breaks to break up chunks of copy
- Use bullet points and lists to get information across quickly
- Use headings to signpost important information
Behold, the power of a bullet pointed list. It’s nice and easy to digest, and you pick the information I’m telling you up quickly. Structuring your copy like this is a good way to make content more accessible, and make it look good on-page. Not to mention, attention spans are short on the internet – according to Time, more than half of users will spend just 15 seconds or less on a page.
An example of content that’s less accessible and user-friendly.
A more interesting, user-friendly layout.
Ditch the jargon
Avoid using complicated jargon and slang. Ask yourself ‘would this make sense to someone who doesn’t work in the field?’
If you’re an SEO writer working in a CMS, it’s important to optimise your ALT tags and CTAs to improve CTRs so you can rank higher on SERPs.
Now while that sentence makes perfect sense to me (and probably to you, since you’re reading a guide to content writing on a digital agency blog) to most people it’s gibberish. Even if you’ve explained each acronym somewhere else in the copy, using lots of jargon all at once can be overwhelming for your readers.
Misusing jargon can make some marketing spiels sound like they were written by committee. If you’ve ever worked with a client who was ‘disrupting the space’ by ‘efficiently cultivating proactive agility’, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
On the other hand, what you might regard as common slang (‘we lowkey love this’ or ‘this is so extra’) might confuse an older reader, or anyone that’s not constantly up to date on the latest Twitter memes. This one obviously varies massively depending on who and what you’re writing for, but don’t assume everyone shares your vocabulary.
Overusing synonyms is also a common issue. Your copy could end up becoming overly ornate, florid, magniloquent, or even orotund… see what I mean? Save the fancy words and say what you mean. Sometimes you do need a synonym to break up your copy, but don’t just go for the most fancy sounding word.
Create a hierarchy
Simply put, creating a hierarchy means you should put the most important information first, where your reader is most likely to see it. This is where our beloved <h1> tags come into play. Heading tags are hugely important for both SEO and accessible user-friendly content. They tell search engines what a page is about, and what information is important in your content, and they also do the same for your readers.
I’m about to do what I said not to, and bust out the jargon – but since you’re here to learn about accessible SEO copywriting I think we’re on safe ground here.
In your content, you should separate out different topics using headings to signpost the rest of your information. And to keep things clear, always use a hierarchy – so a h3 tag, a smaller heading, goes under a h2, usually used as a subheading. That would go under a h1, your main heading tag. Keeping the headings in order helps your reader to follow the flow of your content. Using the correct heading tags is also important for anyone using a screen reader, to help visually impaired people to navigate your content.
There’s a lot more to be said about accessible content – we haven’t even touched on how to make your page layout more accessible with images and alt text – but when you sit down to write your next SEO blog, hopefully some of these tips will help.