How does ‘language change’ influence content marketing?
Language change has long been a fascination of mine. From where words originate from – their etymology – to how their meanings alter with time, I’ve always been intrigued by the ‘why’. I dedicate a lot of the positive blame to Countdown’s Susie Dent for this! Take the word ‘wicked’, for example. These days, describing something as ‘wicked’ means it’s ‘cool’ or ‘awesome’. That’s a stark contrast to my Granny most recently using it to describe Putin – evil, morally wrong, villainous.
It goes without saying that as the meanings of our words change, so too do the ways in which we use them. Given that almost seven hours a day is spent by the average person viewing content on a screen, the chops and changes language is undergoing are becoming more notable as the amount of information we’re exposed to and consume surges.
SEO practices for B2B marketing
In the B2B marketing world that I’m a part of, developing written content to be shared online is a strategy staple. In a nutshell, embedding target keywords and phrases throughout the copy of any website helps draw traffic to the site by making it more possible for users to find information via search engines (known as ‘search engine optimisation’, habitually shortened to ‘SEO’).
One of the most common SEO practices is to write content for the ‘blog’ section of a website. This ensures a steady stream of information that’s current, relevant, and refreshed. It’s the language and form now used in these pieces that I’m most interested in discussing.
You see, we’re a world incredibly accustomed to accessing information from wherever, whenever – it’s quite literally at our fingertips. Because of this, our hunt for answers is also speed-centric. For context, the last thing query I Googled delivered over 3.9 million results in 0.46 seconds.
So, though writing, by large, should still ‘read’ well, it’s arguably just as important to ensure that you’re hitting those 3 or so keywords in a manner that enables the provision of easy-to-find, consistent, and concise answers for your reader. To truly get your piece to appeal, you’ve got to reflect speed in the structure and presentation of the content.
Are we waving ‘goodbye’ to the paragraph?
How am I tying this back to language change? Well, it’s easiest to explain this by looking at the BBC’s news website. In recent years, the BBC’s news articles have shifted to favour shorter pieces constructed of a handful one-sentence paragraphs – two at most – rather than lengthier, more detailed reporting. Sure, longer-form content is still available, usually in the form of ‘full story’ or ‘analysis’ pieces, but their structures also tend to follow structures that indulge the shorter paragraph, too.
Naturally, the nature of the news is to deliver accurate information that’s timely, if not ‘breaking’ – perhaps, the less frills attached, the better. And this seems to be the same for content marketing.
Whilst I can’t help but feel a personal sense of sadness that we’re losing the traditional paragraph (remember when you used a ruler to make the indentation?), I can appreciate the reasons why. In the same way that I no longer snub starting a sentence with ‘and’ – the word creates a sense of momentum in your writing that helps to spur your reader to continue. We’re aiming to retain users on websites, not have them defer elsewhere. When you read the word ‘and’ aloud, you get a sense that you’re shouldn’t catch your breath – another piece of significant information about to come. It’s the same on-screen.
It’s time to state reading time
Talking of keeping an audience, it’s also interesting to note the influence that stated ‘reading time’ has over a person’s likeliness to read your article. A study into this found that engagement rates on certain pieces increased by up to 40% when the reading time of the copy was added. So it goes that when you know how long the article will take you to read, you can make a conscious choice as to whether you have long enough to do so.
It sounds rather obvious, but when we’re wading through gazillions of online content day-in, day-out, it’s an audience’s market as to what gets read, and what gets discarded. By stating at the start that something is, say, a 3-minute read, you’re probably going to be more convinced that you can comfortably fit it into those 10 minutes you’ve got spare whilst sat waiting for your next appointment.
Bionic Reading, the next big thing for content marketing?
Compellingly, to further the almost ‘shallow’ nature of our reading habits comes Bionic Reading. Developed on the fact that our eyes read slower than our brains, this method of reading works to guide the eyes through a piece of text saturated with artificial fixation points. These points are in the form of highlighted letters (usually the first couple), drawing the reader’s focus to these and letting the brain finish the word. By allowing the brain to do more of the legwork than the eyes, it’s thought that online reading can re-establish itself an exercise of more genuine depth and understanding.
That’s the end of today’s little love affair with language. Lots to consider, lots to change. Where are we headed next?