Friday, May 15, 2009

Nanocontent: First 2 words simplified

So after emailing Jakob Nielsen's informative article, "First 2 Words: A Signal for the Scanning Eye," to some of the editors I work with, I received this e-mail:

"I must confess I totally do not understand what this article is saying."

It's easy to forget that this type of information might not make sense to journalists accustomed to writing for print. Here was my response, which hopefully simplifies the First 2 Words Theory:

"Readers on the web generally scan content, and oftentimes they’re not viewing our content from our websites directly. They are seeing a headline or a summary from a search engine, an RSS feed or some other content aggregator. Therefore, it’s important that our headlines are descriptive enough to let a reader know what an article is about. Otherwise, they’re not likely to clickthrough to the story. The short, clever headlines might work in print or on the FleetOwner site itself, but readers often see our headlines completely 'out of context,' meaning they don’t have anything but the headline to make a decision on whether or not to click.

Readers also tend to scan content in an F-shaped pattern, meaning they start at the top left and move to the right, reading less and less as they move down a page. So the thinking goes that the first two words of your headline are the absolute most important words readers will see. The study I linked to yesterday breaks this down even further by analyzing the first 11 characters of a headline.

So let’s look at one of your recent blog titles, 'The price for alternatives,' using this study.

If a reader were to only see the characters 'The price f' (the first 11 characters) would they have any idea what that article might be about? Probably not. This study would argue that something like 'Alternative fuel costs' would be more valuable because the most important words are at the very front.

But don’t get hung up on the 11 characters idea. Think about the first two words. In the example above 'The price' are the first two words. It would be better to have 'Alternative fuel' as the first two words because that tells readers (the scanners) what the story is about much quicker.

Give it a try next week with your blog if you want. Think about the first two words and try to use words that will help readers identify what the blog post is about. The titles don’t have to be long, they just need to convey what a reader might find.


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