I fell into the role of web content manager pretty early in my career because I had a knack for “translating” between different business teams. Though all of the teams involved in those web projects — marketers, designers, developers, copywriters, even clients — spoke English, they all seemed to have very different business dialects.
I learned that especially when technology or complex subjects are involved, miscommunication can result in some very expensive errors.
Clear communication is central to any successful marketing project, and a business blog is no exception. A business blog can be a powerful inbound marketing vessel. It can also reveal to your customers that you understand them, and help them along the path toward solving the problem that’s keeping them up at night.
Here are 5 pieces of advice to help you write about technical or complex subjects in a relatable, “plain English” way.
1. Write it with a high-schooler in mind
I know what you’re thinking. “But Jessica, I thought I was supposed to write for my ideal audience!” Well, yes and no. Like all marketing “rules,” consider your business.
Say you are writing blog posts about Ruby on Rails, for example, because your business hinges on that technology. Say your post is so high-level and complex that the technician who is reading it, the guy who is interested in buying what you’re selling, doesn’t feel comfortable forwarding it on to his boss (who is decidedly not technical). He knows his boss won’t understand all the jargon, and he knows that while the blog post was fascinating to him, it’s not something he can use to convince his boss to buy what you’re selling.
In that case, even though you wrote for your audience (the technician), your blog post failed to do what it was ultimately supposed to do (help that technician solve his problem).
A good way to know where to draw the line between “technical enough to reveal your expertise” and “too technical to make sense to anyone outside a narrow niche” is to think about writing to savvy high-schooler. This high-schooler is exposed to higher-level language in his daily school routine, but he actually responds best to simple explanations. When he is asked to read a textbook that is too complex, he gets frustrated — and he doesn’t learn. Simplified explanations trump sophisticated language for this guy.
2. Use analogies and examples
Do you see what I did above? I gave you an example of how overly sophisticated writing can stop your business blog from doing its job. This scenario is something that you might be able to relate to in your own life. The example illustrated my point.
When you are presenting technical or complex material in your blog, use examples that people can relate to. It will help drive home the information or the point you’re trying to make.
In addition to examples, another great writing tool for blogs is the analogy. An analogy is a comparison between two things, and it can help your readers see something in a new way. Some examples of analogies:
- “For some people, reading a good book is like a Calgon bubble bath — it takes you away …” – Kris Carr, Crazy Sexy Cancer Survivor, 2008
- “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” – Forrest Gump
- “The internet is like a popularity contest.” – Jean Moncrieff in his article, 6 Analogies to Help Explain Inbound Marketing
What parallels can you draw between the subject you are writing about and something your ideal audience can relate to?
3. Keep it simple and include links to more information
Coming back to writing for a high-schooler, your target reader also has a short attention span. He is easily distracted by cute kitten videos. So write with this in mind.
Keep the information bite-sized and break big topics down into sections or even a series of posts.
A good example of this is DataStax’s three-post series, “Get Your Head in the Clouds” (here is part 2 and part 3). This series goes into great detail about storage attached indexing (SAI) — but if that was all written as a single blog post, it might be almost impossible to read in one sitting! Matt Kennedy took a complex subject and broke it down into three digestible chunks.
If you want to squeeze even more value out of your blog real estate, and you want to provide more information to satisfy voracious blog readers, resist the urge to overstuff your blog — instead, link to related posts. You can do this contextually — that is, hyperlinking text in a sentence — or you can call out articles for further reading at the end of your blog. You can even do both of these things in the same blog post. I promise the blog police won’t arrest you for it. In fact, linking to other posts that you wrote AND linking to posts that other people have written on a topic can be really fantastic for your SEO.
4. Format for easy reading
Most people skim blogs more than they read them. Formatting your posts to facilitate skimming — that is, making your major points stand out visually — is a smart thing to do, especially for technical or complex topics.
Your headline and sub-headlines should tell a compelling story in and of themselves, but they should also encourage the reader to read the content underneath. For example, in this post about how to use content to improve the customer experience, each sub-headline is one clear reason why content should be factored into the customer experience — but each sub-headline also prompts the reader to read the content to learn the “why” and “how.”
Use bullets and numbers to make individual points and give step-by-step instructions. Also, indent sections of your blog post to call them out as important.
Utilize white space to give your readers’ eyes a rest and colors to draw attention to important sections.
Keep paragraphs short to make the content easier to read.
5. Use expressive language
Take a note from the world of fiction writing and bring the senses into your blog post.
Especially with technical topics, it’s easy to fall into writing in a monotonous voice. Liven up your blog post with language that captures attention through the five senses and/or by evoking emotion.
Does the car have great shock absorption or is it “a smooth ride?” Is your accounting service reliable, or is it “faithfully accountable?” Are your glow-in-the-dark t-shirts pretty, or are they “luminous?” Okay, that last example might be a little bit literal — but you get the point. Evocative language, used judiciously, can make a bland topic come alive.
These five tips should help you improve your blog post writing when you are covering technical or complicated topics. For further reading, I also found this post from Copyblogger writer Yael Grauer fantastic if you are interviewing an expert on a complex subject.