Start your next post, page or pitch with the point you want to make — not history, context, puffery or other words that aren’t essential to your readers. This will keep what’s important on the top left of the page, where people focus.
For example, you’ll often read news releases that begin like this:
“Santina R. Claus, CEO and Chairman of Christmas Enterprises, bringing joy to children since 1603, today announced her 2014 travel itinerary, which will span the globe, from Siberia to South Africa…”
Instead, it should read:
“Santina Claus will start in northern Russia this year.” That is intriguing news for both media and curious children.
“Santina Claus will start in northern Russia this year, the CEO and chairman of Christmas Enterprises announced today.”
Save “bringing joy to children since 1603” until after you have summarized her itinerary.
Often the people you’re writing for want to start with descriptions of their size, success, mission or something else they are proud of. Honoring their wishes may keep them happy at first. But not nearly as happy as they’ll be if readers actually read and remember their point or their content is widely shared.
Alternatively, maybe you’ve included words that don’t need to be there, in your messy first draft. Sweep away this clutter in your tidy second draft.
1. Write for your immediate reader
If you’re crafting a news release, you need to write it just like journalists would. Otherwise, they could miss your point or skip your content because they’re too busy to rewrite.
Similarly, if you’re writing a pitch to prospects, lead with what’s most important to them.
Left-loading works with most other readers too, pretty much anyone who is more interested in what’s in it for me than in what the person you’re writing for is proud of.
This is even more important than it used to be.
2. Cater to mobile readers
Online readers, especially those on mobile, focus on the left, according to eye tracking tests. In fact, one of the tips shared by Ann Handley at the recent meshmarketing conference in Toronto, was to make sure the first few words on the left side of your content rivet your readers. That’s all they may read.
3. Squeeze into small spaces
With Twitter and other social media, it also makes sense to focus on the beginning. If you go on for too long before you excite your readers or make your point, you may have exhausted your character quota or their attention span.
Left-loading will also help ensure your keywords are front and centre, for search engine spiders to easily spot.
4. Short works
As you continue to write, you can keep your important words appearing on the left through short sentences and paragraphs. This will also make your content easier to read, understand and remember.
I’m not suggesting that you should never start a sentence with a description or subordinate clause. To maintain interest and add emphasis, you need to vary your sentence structure. But I am insisting on left-loading for the first paragraph or two.
5. Goof proof
For time-crunched writers, simplicity is the best way to avoid grammar errors and foggy meanings. Consider the tendency to mismatch words and phrases. For example, “With regional offices in 20 countries, Santina R. Claus today announced her 2014 travel itinerary…” “Regional offices” do not sync with “Santina R. Claus.” Besides, few people care about how big the company is. It’s all about Santina.
In other cases, words that don’t fit may slide in. Such as:“With regional offices in 20 countries, Christmas Enterprises also… ”
Yes, also, even though it’s not in addition to anything else. I saw this today in a news release from a company that shall remain nameless. And I’ve seen bloopers like this countless times from writers who are busier than Santina’s elves this time of year.
Keep it simple!
By all means, include what your client, boss or other approver loves. But first make the essential point
To revise right-loaded copy, you can simply flip the essential and nonessential clauses in your first sentence. Better still, turn the essential clause into a short sentence, followed by another that summarizes the other stuff.
If you have to explain to your client, boss or content matter expert why you are insisting on left-loading your words, you can summarize it like this:
- So people with short attention spans will read and remember the main point.
- So people reading online, especially on mobile devices, will actually see the words.
- So you won’t run out of characters or attention span on social media.
- To keep it simple and readable.
- To avoid mistakes and confusion.
Got it? Now get back to work, you busy elves.