B2B decision makers are busy people. So if they’re looking for solutions, they want quick answers. If a Marketing Director googles demand generation vs. inbound marketing, they probably don’t have time to slog through 3,000 words to find out the difference.
Furthermore, if they see it’s going to take 15 minutes to read your post, and they’re not convinced it even contains the answer they’re seeking, they’ll probably leave to find the answer elsewhere.
To better communicate with readers, you need to make your content scannable.
What is Scannable Content?
“Scannable content is a way to be respectful of your readers’ time,” says Elizabeth Burnam, Marketing Copywriter at New Breed. “The goal of inbound content isn’t necessarily to be the next Great American Blogger. You’re there to help people, and ultimately I don’t think you’re helping people if they have to dig through giant blocks of text in order to find the answers.”
Scannable content is written with the digital reader in mind. It’s concise and formatted in short sections so readers can quickly identify what information is important to them and focus on that.
“Scannability matters first and foremost because so many users are mobile users now,” says Elizabeth.“If you’re on a tiny screen like that and are presented with a big block of text, it just gets overwhelming.”
Scannable content helps writers and readers alike by providing structure and conveying clear expectations for each piece.
How to Make Content Scannable
Make it easier for readers to find what their looking for with sections and subtitles
Subtitles are great for pieces of content that cover many ideas or multiple components that build to an idea.
“Using subtitles to break up those posts allows readers to quickly go in a find what they’re looking for,” Elizabeth says.
For example, in our post The Complete Guide to Demand Generation Marketing, someone might already know what demand generation is and how to do it and is just looking for tech stack tips.
Instead of having to scroll through the post to find any info on software, they can click on the anchor link “Useful Technology Stacks” and go straight to the section “Smart Tech to Support Your Strategy: Which Tools Can Help You With Demand Generation?”
“I’m a big fan of phrasing them as questions because people search for things because they have a question,” Elizabeth says.
When crafting your section titles, think about the purpose of the individual section and the piece as a whole. While catchy titles can be fun and appropriate at times, if the title doesn’t clearly communicate the purpose of the section, it just adds friction for your readers.
Additionally, if you’re having trouble clearly communicating what a section is about, you might be trying to cram too many ideas in.
“If you’re targeting the who, what, where, why and how in one section, that can get really difficult to navigate for the reader,” Elizabeth says. “It’s also really hard to come up with a concise title that speaks to everything that section’s going to be about.”
A good way to break up sections is to have one goal per section and stick to that goal.
Create an intro that sets the stage
Your intro has to convince the reader to keep reading.
“Realistically, everyone would rather not read a blog post than read a blog post that’s not gonna give them any value,” Elizabeth says.
Crafting an intro is a careful balance of providing enough information and context that the reader wants to keep going without giving so much information that there’d be no point in them reading any further.
For example, in our post “What is Inbound Sales?” we open with two short paragraphs about the changes that have led to the emergence of inbound sales. Then there’s a section title asking “What is Inbound Sales?” followed immediately by the definition.
If someone is only reading this post for that definition, they can find it quickly and easily. But we add value before dropping that definition by providing some of the “why” and continue to provide value afterwards by discussing the difference between inbound and outbound and how to use specific tactics.
“Someone might only read the first sentence of the post, and oftentimes in a blog library that’s the only snippet that they’re getting,” Elizabeth says. “How can you convey what information is going to be there in the quickest way possible?”
An intro should grab attention, capture what the post is about and explain why it will be valuable for the reader. Intros also provide an opportunity to connect with your reader and show you understand their challenges and aren’t just creating content for the sake of it.
Wrap it all up with a key takeaways section
Whether you’re writing a full-fledged guide or a shorter blog post, you should have some sort of recap at the end.
You can’t necessarily fit the meat of your piece in the conclusion, but if someone were to only read the intro and conclusion, they should have a solid idea of the piece’s content.
While wrapping up your piece, don’t be too repetitive, but also don’t introduce new tactical information. Instead, the goal of your key takeaway section is to reiterate the most important elements of your post and then contextualize them.
“The key takeaway section is a really good time to connect whatever you were talking about in that post to whatever you will be talking about in your call-to-action offer,” Elizabeth says. “It’s a transition point into your next conversion opportunity.”
Add some visual variety with images and graphics
Visuals add some variety amongst your text and can add clarity to the content being presented.
“Images and videos are a good opportunity to provide readers with exactly what you want them to know because it’s going to be the first thing they look at,” Elizabeth says.
Additionally, scannability is an innately visual component of content. Making a post easier to scan also makes it more visually appealing, and adding graphics can support that when used tactfully.
Using visuals to highlight the points you want the reader to take away and aligning your visuals with the goal of each section can help guide your visual strategy.
If your inclusion of graphics and videos hits the point where the reader can’t immediately understand what they’re supposed to be getting from the post, tone it down.
Define complex list items through bullet points
Bullets are great ways to break longer sections into clearly defined chunks. They can also be used to split up a list, especially if the list items are phrases.
“If you’re saying ‘you should use inbound, SEO and social,’ you don’t necessarily need to break that into bullets because they’re all short and easy to digest,” Elizabeth says.
“Whereas if you’re saying ‘you should use inbound marketing to grow your business, align your sales and marketing teams and become a top competitor in your market,’ with longer phrases like that, it can be difficult to take in all at once.”
Look at the difference between that compex list example as a paragraph and broken into bullet points:
You should use inbound marketing to grow your business, align your sales and marketing teams and become a top competitor in your market.
You should use inbound marketing to
- Grow your business
- Align your sales and marketing teams
- Become a top competitor in your market
The bullets add more emphasis to each list item, making it easier for the reader to understand what to focus on.
Highlight what’s important with emphasis elements
When there’s a particular word or phrase within a sentence or paragraph you want your readers to focus on, you can emphasize it with italics or bolding.
However, this strategy should be used sparingly since bolding too many things detracts from the impact of the emphasis element.
For example, in our post What is an Ideal Customer Profile?, the first section “Ideal Customer Profile vs. Buyer Persona vs. Target Market” defines and compares those three terms.
In that section, “Ideal customer profile” “buyer persona” and “target market” are all bolded to make it easier for readers to locate those specific definitions.
“When we’re writing content, we’re trying to educate our readers or persuade our readers to take some sort of action,” Elizabeth says. “If you’re educating readers, you’d bold the new pieces of information you’re trying to emphasize. “
If the goal of the piece is to persuade a reader, use emphasis elements to indicate where they should go next.
The benefits of scannable content can be summed up by the concept of the internet shorthand “tl;dr” or “too long; didn’t read,” which typically introduces a short summary of a lengthy piece of writing.
You don’t want your readers to look at your content and immediately bounce due to the length of the piece in front of them. Instead, by making it scannable and clearly defining what will be covered, you make it easier for readers to gain value from your content.
“By the time scannability becomes important, they’ve already clicked on your page — so your title is fine — and they’re going to make the decision once they get to the page whether or not they’re going to read through it, and whether or not they’re going to click on your CTAs, subscribe to your blog or visit your other pages from there,” Elizabeth says.
Research found that visitors decide within seconds of arriving on a page whether they’ll stay or bounce. So, you need to make it immediately clear what the piece of content will offer to effectively engage your reader.
Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.