PR RXYou can’t read an article or blog these days on web design or SEO without seeing a reference to “user experience design” (or “UXD” if you want to look cool.) It’s a hot topic, and for reasons that go far beyond aesthetics. The experience users of a web site encounter have a direct effect on that site’s search rankings and conversion rate. And in the advice offered by UXD pros and SEO gurus are some important lessons for writers.

First, a little background. When we’re talking about web site user experience, we’re referring to all the different aspects of content, structure and navigation that enable a site visitor to do the things he or she wants to do, whether that means reading a white paper, registering for an event, browsing information or purchasing things. Poor UXD means that something on the site prevents the visitor from doing what he or she intended to do.

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This blog post was actually inspired by a press release I reviewed for a client last week. It was long, wandering from topic to topic. It tried to tell the story of a new product along with the story of the product pipeline as well as the story of a successful acquisition. It tried to achieve too much, and as I read through it, I really wanted to stop reading. And that is exactly what we don’t want our readers to do.

As we’re drafting press releases, we should be thinking about what exactly we want our readers to do, and then structure the content accordingly. But how do we design press releases (and other content, for that matter) to encourage readers to move forward, to the outcome we want them to take? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Identify the specific outcome you want your primary audience to take. In most cases, you’ll want other constituents to read the story, too. But trying to serve all audiences in one message is tough to do. Focus the content on one audience, and one outcome, such as getting industry media and bloggers to write a particular story, generating social shares of an image or getting readers to click on a specific link.
  2. Focus the content of every paragraph on leading the reader to that outcome. If your writing starts to veer from the path, so will your reader. Stay focused on the key message. Other messages will need their own separate vehicles, whether that means another press release or something else, such as a blog post or inclusion in a customer newsletter.
  3. Structure the content to enable the reader to get to the desired outcome. It’s important to assume that most readers do not read all the way through a piece of content, unless it is meeting their needs and hooking their interest every single step of the way. This means that in addition to keeping the message focused, you need to put links where people will click them – such as right after the first paragraph, rather than at the very end of the copy where they could be easily overlooked. Weave links and access to supporting information throughout the content.

As writers, we need to think first about what our readers want to read and accomplish, rather than what messages our organizations want to convey. Press releases should march the reader straight to the key points of the story and wrap up with an inevitable conclusion. Just as marketers strive to prevent their sales funnels from leaking, and webmasters focus on increasing the time visitors spend on the site, writers need to be thinking about maintaining reader attention as they author content.