Guide Your Readers with Layers

Layering content with a combination of visual and verbal cues will increase engagement and comprehension.

Wendy Ruyle 3.8.2022


We’re all pulled in many directions these days and we have shorter and shorter attention spans. How do you get readers to engage with your marketing content when they are so overwhelmed?

Part of the answer is presenting your information in layers. Guide them through your content in a way that lets them engage with your content at the level that they need to get the most out of it.

Different audiences want different levels of information. And different touchpoints allow for more top-level or deeper dives into content. An executive may just want the basics. A CFO or a project manager will want more specifics. An engaged learner may want it all.

Here are some tips on how to tailor your channel and your message for your readers’ needs.

Skimming the surface

This type of reader just wants the top-level information. Think of this as the executive summary of your communication. It’s the first few things a reader will focus on—images, headlines, subheads, and callouts.

  • Images: Be sure to connect your images to the narrative. They should tell part of the story for you. Make them eye-catching and relatable. Photos of people will engage readers on an emotional level but don’t forget, illustrations can sometimes tell a story and create a mood that photos can’t.
  • Headlines: Keep it short. The shorter a headline is the larger it can be and that creates a hierarchy within your communication. Many writers were trained in writing press releases where the headline needs to tell the whole story. Marketing communications need to dole it out in smaller chunks.
  • Subheads: Focus on the key takeaways of your communication and make those your subheads. What are your differentiators? Why should the reader choose your product or service? What’s in it for them?
  • Callouts: Think about the emotional state someone needs to be in to choose your offerings. What will help them feel that? A quote from a happy customer? Your bigger purpose that speaks to them? Pull out that content into a sidebar or callout that gets your reader to say “yes” before they even dig deeper.

Digging deeper

This reader wants a little more detail. What is the date and time of your event? What is the next step in the process? What are the differences between tiers of your offerings?

To reach this audience, think about using typographic levels or color blocks to highlight key information. Consider the placement of key information too. I hate getting an email with an invitation to an event and having to scroll all the way to the bottom just to find the date and time.

Use bullet points rather than a list in paragraph form to itemize offerings. Consider a chart that compares one product or a service to another. A diagram might help break down a complex process into understandable chunks. Clear calls to action at the end of a communication help guide your reader into the next step.

Due diligence

This reader wants all the data. What’s the schedule? What’s the budget? How do I accomplish this task? What are best practices? Use as much space as you need for content like white papers, proposals, long-form blog posts, technical specifications, and how-tos. But don’t forget to continue thinking in layers. Keep using subheads and bullet points to break up long stretches of copy. And include photos, diagrams, and illustrations along the way to help communicate your message.

Don’t try to cram too much information in too small a space. White space in margins and gutters helps readers make logical sense of the information presented and can increase comprehension when used properly. Use a comfortable type size and not too long of a column width to make reading easy, no matter the device.

Tone is very important in longer communications. If your style is too formal, your audience may nod off just because it’s too static or academic. Make your copy approachable by using short paragraphs that match the reading level of your audience and avoid technical jargon.

Layering content with a combination of visual and verbal cues via images, hierarchy of typography, and tone of voice will help you connect to your readers with the right message for them.

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