When Apple, under Steve Job’s keen business eye, introduced the iPhone and the iPod Touch, he changed the modern technology industry. The change is the key at the heart of all Apple design, and has passed into the general consciousness: minimalism.
Minimalism and Search
With the whole of the internet at our fingertips, nearly 60% of searches are now mobile rather than desktop.
But despite Samsung’s (and others’) attempts to force us to swallow swishy phablets, the majority of our handheld devices don’t have a particularly big screen. Add that to the development of responsive websites, with everything aligned and pushed together for our reading ease, and we’re no longer looking at all the big-screen detail we have on desktop. We no longer care for the digital equivalent of broadsheet, just as our parents lost interest in the paper version in favour of middle-market tabloids.
We are, as a culture, increasingly impatient. And it’s fuelled by mobiles.
Google recently announced that their search algorithm is making a move to mobile-first indexing, a clear milestone on our desire for instant results.
Amazon’s Alexa is predicted to bring in $11 billion to Amazon’s revenue stream by 2020. Eric Schmidt felt Siri was a threat to Google in 2011 and the company added Voice Search to their repertoire. Microsoft added Cortana.
We wrote recently about how to optimise a site for voice search – after it was revealed that 20% of Google’s mobile searches are now through these voice services. It’s a slow but mighty trend: Google switched over to their “conversational” Hummingbird algorithm in 2013. It meant that searches based around answering questions were much more practical – “where can I buy pizza near me?” became an easy way to conduct searches.
This approach paved the way for the realities of searching by voice; Google no longer looked at individual words, but the whole meaning of the sentence. It was an important step towards allowing us to communicate with technology directly.
We don’t even need to touch our keyboards anymore; we can just talk to our phones.
Minimalism and SEO
Our technological and attention span minimalism is interesting from a cultural analysis point of view, but on the business level it’s also breeding a different type of professional, particularly in the SEO universe.
Optimising for search means getting as many of those vital, high-volume keywords in as possible. That favours long-form copy with natural keyword inclusion, to snap up those top ranks on Google.
But while long pages liberally scattered with organic keywords might bump you up the search rankings, it’s no longer what the audience wants to read (outside of industry analysis data pieces). According to a Nielsen Norman study, during an average website visit, readers only have time to read 28% of the content, skimming the rest and only focusing on paragraphs that target their search interests.
If readers are spending such a minimal amount of time on your page, your job as an SEO specialist is done, since you’ve got them to the site. But your copywriting ability and your marketing skills are lacking – you’re not turning these readers into leads.
The tone required to keep their interest is increasingly informal and decreasing in length, both for the sake of mobile and voice searches. Every word has to count more, because the word count you’re allowed is getting shorter. Copywriting as an industry is the new Twitter – except the character count is in your readers’ minds.
That’s bad enough for general copywriters, but in the SEO line of business, it means you’ve got less space for your keywords.
It means rearranging sentences into smart approaches to long-tail keywords. It means making careful use of quotes, indirect questions and ways to repeat the same sentence with different words in it to hit all the targets without losing your reader.
Minimalism and Embracing the Future
Minimalism isn’t a bad thing, and minimalistic copywriting isn’t either – it’s just a culture shift. The last generation of marketers had to deal with the arrival of computers, which obviously means whole new markets and whole new approaches.
Our challenge – as copywriters, as SEO experts, as content marketers – is the same one that that generation had to face. A new market comes along, you try the old methods on the new technology, and inevitably, it doesn’t work for very long. You try new methods and see what sticks. SEO itself is an example of how the market changed to reflect the means of service delivery – a whole industry built around the move from face-to-face transactions to online business.
How to: Minimalism in 3 Easy Steps
If it’s slipped you by so far, fear not – minimalism is nothing if not readily accessible.
1. Get rid of the chaff
Start by analysing superfluous words and phrases in your narrative, and seeing whether you really need to say how “passionate” your approach to innovation is. 98% of readers don’t want fluff – I can’t back that up, but the number caught your eye, didn’t it?
You need to make sure you’re optimising every word with the precision of a search engine – even if you’re just writing for a reader. Almost everyone’s approach to a web-page follows similar patterns; you can make use of that.
2. Follow the F
The Nielsen Norman report mentioned earlier in this article found that site visitors tend to scan pages in an F-shaped pattern, reading the top of the page and looking down the left-hand side, and ignoring the rest.
If you’re careful, you can ensure that all your most important points follow this design, to capture your “scanner’s” interest, and turn them into a reader. This requires good information architecture – ensuring your information is laid out in a readily accessible form. Good sub-titles go a long way, and leading your paragraphs with your most important point will catch the eye and drag the brain in.
And of course, keep referring back to that most important tool in the copywriter arsenal – “would I want to read this?”
In short, word counts are dropping and reader impatience is rising. Content has to be planned around two things – mobile phones, and modern readers. It’s entirely manageable, but it’s a trend to watch if copywriters are to stay on top of the content market.
The last generation’s challenge was computers, ours is mobile. So far it’s been a case of doing what we did for desktop and adapting, but like that last generation, the rug’s going to be pulled out from under us unless we start from a whole new perspective. And that perspective is minimalism.