Paul Bradshaw and Turan Ali had me thinking about the best way to publish online, choosing between an inverted pyramid and an arc of tension.
Here’s a must-read article by @PaulBradshaw on content strategy, SEO, social media optimization and SCARf:
But before you dive in, what is SCARf? It means, increasing the chance that users:
- Stumble on your content
- Click on your content
- Act on your content
- Read your content fully.
Okay, read it? Now I would like to focus on a section of the fourth (Read-fully) part:
In fact one of the most depressing statistics to come out of modern analytics is that the traditional inverted pyramid news article doesn’t perform very well in terms of retaining readers: formats like liveblogging and datablogs perform much much better on audience retention.
I’ve always thought the inverted pyramid style of writing was an online best practice, because it means you put your most important news/conclusions/findings at the top and most readers will like that. It will definitely improve findability and SEO because the key words are in the most important locations (headline, first paragraph), and the essence of the story will be clear when the page is shared.
However recently I attended a training by Turan Ali, he talked about story theory and the ‘arc of tension‘. Let’s describe this as slowly developing the story, building momentum – don’t give away the crux right at the beginning. This made me think, there’s a clear friction between the arc of tension and inverted pyramid writing. Applying the arc of tension might improve audience retention, but I still think that busy audience will always want some sort of summary at the top to communicate the essence of the story. Visitors will immediately know what they’ll get and key words will be in the most important location (for search engines).
A different section of Paul’s article states why it is important to be clear about your content:
And how do you increase the chances that users will click on your headline in search results or when shared on social media by others? Well, being clear about the story helps. Cryptic pun-laden headlines might satisfy your creative side, but they can be frustrating for the online reader who doesn’t understand your cultural references and just wants to know if the article will give them what they’re searching for.
Personally I’m in favor of a summary at the start. Users make split-second decisions on what-to-read. Will they click or wander on? Of course it will depend on the type of content and actual information needs.
What do you think? Can the arc of tension and optimizing for search and social go well together? Please share your views in the comments.