Does Your Copy Pass the Skim Test?

You did it. You researched your topic, wrote multiple drafts, revised and edited, and finally polished it up. Now your article or blog post is ready for the world.

But wait! Before you click the publish button, there’s one final important step: content layout. Give your copy the best chance for success by making it as reader-friendly as possible.

Because even if your content is useful, well written, and relevant to readers it may still be overlooked if the format makes it difficult to scan for the main points. Think about what you like in an online article. Do you want dense paragraph blocks with little space between them? Or a clean presentation that effortlessly guides your eye through the text?

And since most people will use a mobile device to read your content, it needs to look as clean and friendly on a smartphone or tablet as it does on a desktop screen. To achieve this, make sure your copy passes the skim test. Here’s how.

Headlines (Like this One) Matter

Of course, you want people to read the content you spent time, money, and mental energy creating. But first, you want them to be able to skim it. Why? Because it allows visitors to quickly scan your article to make sure it contains the information they’re looking for before they commit to it. Once they determine you’re sharing something valuable, they are more likely to settle in and read your work more closely. It also makes you a more trustworthy source of information.

So Do Subheads — Give Your Headline the Support it Deserves

No matter how clever or well-crafted your headline is, it can’t cover everything. So think of it this way: the headline reveals the main topic and grabs the reader’s attention, while the subhead offers the critical supporting information that helps you maintain their interest.

Ideally, your subhead should be about 10-20 words long and reveal just enough detail to engage the reader. You don’t need to answer all their questions in the subhead, you just want to entice them to read on.

And when the headline and subhead are followed by a clear call to action or ask, then you truly have a winning combination. Here’s an example:

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See how the headline, subhead, and call to action all work together to give the article context and meaning?

Don’t Forget the Bullet Points

Using bullet points is a proven way to make your content easier to skim and absorb. Along with breaking up copy blocks and creating white space for a cleaner look, bullet points work especially well when offering instructions, sharing a list of options or main ideas, or other important details you want your readers to grasp in a glance.

For example:

  • Take these bullet points.
  • Your eye instinctively goes here.
  • This helps you read and skim easier.
  • See what we mean?
  • Bonus tip: putting some copy in bold face can work wonders.

To ensure your bullets (or numbers) are as helpful as possible to readers, consider the following three tips.

  1. Be brief. Offer the main message and avoid copy clutter. If you need multiple sentences under a bullet point it might as well be its own paragraph.
  2. Be symmetrical. Group your bullet points by topic or theme, and use the same grammatical form throughout.
  3. Be clear. Bullet points are designed for clarity, not subtlety. Plus, offering straightforward information in bite-sized bits encourages people to keep reading.

Now you’re ready to try this in your next article or blog post. Apply the tips above and you’ll pass the skim test every time. And your readers will thank you for it.