Entering the realm of cyberspace, reading and writing change, changing us and the way we perceive text. New modes of interacting with the written word emerge and further exist in brand new environments, across brand new digital surfaces and spaces.
Given the bursts of thoughts and meaning exchange in the digital world, we as writers, are challenged to rethink reader experience and from there find answers to questions like: how can we write differently to meet our readers? where are we to meet our readers?
The answer to each of the questions lies in thoroughly examining and understanding the moving parts of a fragmented, multi-channel reality. One of the rapidly unfolding narratives and living intertextuality. One where our readers are constantly distracted by notifications and have increasingly shrinking attention spans. A reality where content needs growing at electric speed.
Talking about the fragmented reader’s experience,
the index below can help you navigate through this article.
Just click colored rectangle besides the names of the paragraphs on the left to skip to those passages, or click the ones besides the entities on the right to better understand the main concepts behind this article.
Readers and Writers: A Life in Fragments
Deconstructing the fragmented nature of today’s reader experience is key to crafting texts that will connect us to audiences in a meaningful way. And the nature of today’s reader very much resembles what Seneca described in one of his Moral Letters to Lucilius – On discursiveness in reading:
…reading of many authors and books of every sort may tend to make you discursive and unsteady. You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind. Everywhere means nowhere. When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends.
Further, the letter continues with Seneca arguing that ”eating” too much of a knowledge is “cloying the consumer rather that nourishing them”.
Similarly, a reader’s experience with digital media, mostly the Web-based one, more often than not appears to be “devouring” bits and pieces of fragmented content – a headline from Youtube here, a Facebook share from there, a piece of a Kindle book and a bit of a pdf, sent from a friend.
Acknowledging the essence of such reader’s experience can give us perspectives and understandings that will help us see and foresee what role our texts might play in such a fragmented environment. As writers, we are tasked to find the common thread in this cornucopia of content and present it to our readers giving them real food for thought and deep thinking. For time well-spent is one of the most valuable experience we can enrich the life of a reader with.
“The story of a shattered life can be told only in bits and pieces”, quotes Rilke, philosopher Zigmund Bauman.
In cyberspace, our texts reach readers converging before their eyes in all possible shapes and forms, surfaced and discovered in all conceivable ways. That is why the texts we write are (or should be) like a kaleidoscopic mosaic, made of various chunks. Chunks that can live separately without looking as if they are not part of our narrative. Such kaleidoscope-like approach, where content pieces are designed as to be brought together and form any picture before the reader, is radiant with possibilities for readers and writers alike.
Text on the Web: A Glorious Symphony of Interconnected Ideas, People and Things
On the Web, texts break boundaries and build networks, as glorious symphony of connected ideas, people and things. Our job as writers, diligently meeting our audience’s needs, is to orchestrate this symphony – with our imagination and with a baton made of technology.
Mixed with the right tools, our creativity would allow us to connect on as many levels as possible. For, remember, in a fragmented reader’s reality we are tasked with finding that common thread that will help the person on the other side of the text see clearly through the noise. We should also keep in mind that in a multimodal interaction with our readers we are not only content creators but to also content curators: we need to be able to assemble meaningfully bits and pieces of texts across social media, email communication, forums and other digital spaces.
To sum up, to orchestrate a good symphony, we need to:
find out what algorithmic audiences are all about (how and why they read us)
seek to create a binding thread across devices, platforms and interactive systems through our writing.
We can accomplish both with a single conceptual shot: if we allow ourselves to conceive of texts outside the website boundaries, that is to think of texts within the context of application, a personal assistant, a chatbot, a voice search environment.
The Curious Case of the Networked Text in a Fragmented Reality
It is only when we as writers recognize and accept that we build worlds of words in an environment that pushes the limits of the written word outside the screen, that our messages will be able to make it to our recipients – on the other side of a screen or through the still awkwardly sounding robo voice of a personal assistant, the algorithms of which have just calculated the best answer for the user.
Impressive problem solvers, algorithms have been around since Ancient times. The oldest algorithm, being the one of Euclides (a method for finding the greatest common divider), as Marcus du Sautoy explains in his wonderful movie: The Secret Rules of Modern Living: Algorithms.
Very simply put, algorithms are “a set of defined steps to produce particular outputs”.
Algorithms search, collate, sort, categorise, group, match, analyse, profile, model, simulate, visualise and regulate people, processes and places. They shape how we understand the world and they do work in and make the world through their execution as software, with profound consequences.
That explained, algorithmic audiences are the audiences of various programs that consists of algorithms reading your text in various ways, for a number of reasons – to analyze them, to search through them, to process them and feed them in a larger system. And before we slip into the utopian future of a your vacuum robot reading for pleasure in their spare time, and you thinking about the best text to please it, let me brace you with this first understanding: algorithmic audiences are important and knowing about them will give you a valuable perspective. On one hand it is the human to human interaction that algorithms ultimately serve, on the other, they are still far from being true readers.
I scolded him about last year,
I now offer to his spirit.
Oemaru (Blyth 1982)
[…] this spare and lovely haiku, can we even say for sure what it tells us? So evocative to a person, surely an eternity will pass before a computer can extract its essence. Let’s try something else.
This haiku was written by Oemaru (a Japanese person), was translated by R.h. Blyth (a British person), and appears on page 763 in Blyth (1982). Which is volume three of a set of books entitled Haiku. […]
Yes, this is more like it. We can represent this kind of information to a computer – specific bits and pieces about something definite.
As you can see, algorithmic audiences are nothing more than programs designed to make sense, to the extent possible, of our texts in order to better classify, distribute and serve them. Actually, algorithms can be also very helpful when creating content, as Andrea calls them (see WordLift for Digital Publishers and how to create an Open Database of Knowledge), the can be Our New Colleagues simply because they can interpret data and turn it into meaningful content.
And when a substantial part of our work gets algorithmic helpers, i.e. gets automated, we will have the time and mind space to envisage new ways of interacting with our readers, and connecting with them through the power of words. For the courage of creation and the spirit of imagination will never be a question of automation.
And this leads us to the second understanding I want to brace you with: the understanding of the value and the importance of a narrative.
Electronic text is connected on many levels, it is literally a networked text. With its hyperlinks and the openness it exists within it has the potential to give the reader the full benefits of the digital experience. Among the most prominent from these benefits is the benefit of interconnectedness. On the Web, a text is to be connected to as many parts of its story: to related facts, to contextual details, to a network of ideas, people and to the other texts it is made of and exists in. It is to be a network itself. When it serves as a hub for all kind of related media, it also serves the purpose of being a part of a narrative, while simultaneously providing new experiences, new ways of interaction, new ways of content discovery.
The Web Hitchhikers Guide to Thinking, Reading and Writing
To successfully create and nourish our relationships with our readers, hitchhiking, exploring and making the Web a better place to read in, we need to ask ourselves: What we can do for our readers to make their experiences rich and fulfilling?
Take voice search, for example. A growing number of our readers are accessing websites via Google’s voice search. So, there are a number of things we can do to make our texts suitable to be listened to.
As you might have experienced already for yourself text is being increasingly rendered the form of an answer when searched for in Google. So, here, the implications for us as web authors are clear. We are to aim for:
Clarity: Nothing new here. When writing content for the so-called informational searches, we are to use concise, neutral language and to straightforwardly answer questions. There’s no need for verbosity, what the user needs is as much information packed in one sentence as possible.
Reimagined interaction: This is where we need to imagine possible environments. We are to think about the most important information that a user would need to hear or see and the context they are going to be served that information in.
Narratives built of content chunks: We need to be fusionists here. We are to be able to very well combine a text with other content pieces that we believe will best serve the content need of the user.
And now, the hardest part, I am unwilling to skip: how do you write facts in a beautiful, engaging way. How do we combine them with the creative flow of our text, ultimately how do we present something dry in an immersive way?
Fortunately, I don’t know!
The answers to all of these questions are a matter of your own thoughts, feelings, your own “sequence of decisions”, your own intuition, and your own experience. It is up to you to envisage the interaction with the reader and craft the most appropriate piece to serve, delight and inspire them.
What I know is that passion, imagination and the need to express yourself and connect with your readers will never be a question of algorithms or technology. They will always be a question of the web hitchhiker’s hunch.
And Now, Writers, Please Step Up to the Screenless World of Your Readers
As revolutionary and novel this title may sound, I want to remind you something: solitary reading has not always been the primary way of “consuming” a text. Back in Ancient times there were “readers” that read the text from a scroll to an audience. They did not have the neutral voice of the Kindle reader, reading you your ebook or the “faculty” to search through text as fast as Google Voice Search, but they did have a similar role: to be a kind of a medium in this amazing process in which “we come to know a little more about the world and about ourselves to us individually, far away, and long ago”, as Alberto Manguel puts it in the preface of his book A History of Reading.
My point here is that no matter the medium our text reaches our readers through, be it a screenless environment or another “shiny object”, what counts is that we as writers are to be well-versed in this medium and at the same time not to be blinded by its features. We are to only use it as yet another vehicle for our writings to reach our audiences through the highway called intertwingularity.
We are to just keep doing what we’ve always done – weave webs of words, knowing that our message today is amplified on an unprecedented scale and in today’s culture the fragmented reader experience is the yin of shared understanding and our networked texts are its yan.
Wanna learn more? Join Teodora’s class!
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In this free webinarTeodora Petkova will teach you how to craft effective copy that will:
Bring more traffic to your website
Create an immersive experience for your readers
Connect ideas and people together.
Teodora Petkova is a philologist and a freelance content writer with an educational background is in Classical Studies and Creative Writing. She helps companies with content creation, writing for their blogs. Enthusiast user of WordLift, she wrote an inspiring, beautiful article about her interdisciplinary journey to structure her knowledge graph using our WordPress plugin on her blog.
Some of the content on your website truly represents the essence of your business and is designed to deliver your message to a broader audience. These authoritative pieces of content provide the best and most detailed description of a topic you care about.
In WordLift, we call these articles entities. They are the quintessential, self-contained representation of the interests of your target audience. Entities provide a clear context to the reader and help you connect one article to another in a network of meanings.
WordLifting a website is about building this semantic network between entities and articles in such a way that both humans and machines can get the best out of your writings. With WordLift 3.15, we have worked side-by-side with a highly opinionated group of experts to let you finally turn any of your existing content into entities with the simplicity of a click.
Websites are micro-ecosystems within a broader one
In a way or another, all content pieces in a website are interconnected. Also, they are accessible from multiple entry points: users come from organic search, advertising campaigns, social media, referrals, chatbots or even QR codes that you placed somewhere in the physical world.
In a corporate environment, content becomes an extension of theorganization. In a personal blog content is the extension of the author’s identity.
In other words, a web page is not just a web page: it is deeply interconnected with other pages inside and outside the website and within a broader ecosystem of shared meanings.
In the era of ecosystems, seeing the big picture is more important than ever, and less likely. It’s not simply that we’re forced into little boxes by organizational silos and professional specialization. We like it in there. We feel safe. But we’re not. This is no time to stick to your knitting. We must go from boxes to arrows. Tomorrow belongs to those who connect.
Peter Morville, Intertwingled
If you organize your website and limit your thinking within the borders of your pages, there will always be an external factor that will introduce a degree of entropy. Much like the virus that decimated dozens of wolves in the ecosystem of the Isle Royale National Park, in Michigan, described by Peter Morville in the first chapter of his book, Intertwingled. If you don’t identify your pillars, anything new will comprimise the overall structure.
Instead, try to look at the big picture and find the pillars of your website and the meaningful connections that constitute its soul. And, of course, as your website grows, you will have to keep on building new pillars that are consistent with your editorial plan.
Much like trying to imagine your website as a castle with aisles that connect rooms and other aisles: small rooms, huge ones… just like your site with cornerstones , articles and other features.
The connections between pillar content and all the other articles and pages that you will write are the vectors that reshape the user experience of your readers.
Look at your content and let WordLift do the rest
You have to think twice and carefully choose the pieces of content that you consider strategic for your website. These articles shall become entities and they will form your starting vocabulary (in WordLift all entities are grouped into a vocabulary of terms).
Look at your content. I can easily guess that many articles are strictly related to the time when they have been published. Dig deeper. You will probably find some texts that have been written to explain a concept or to introduce the name – of a person, an organization, a place or an event that has a pivotal role in your editorial plan.
The purpose of an article is to tell a new story or to express a point of view, an opinion. By contrast, when you write a piece of content to explain something to your readers using fact-based and evergreen information – much like an article in Wikipedia – then your content should become an entity in WordLift.
Now, look at your content assets and answer these three questions:
are they meant to describe relevant and recurrent concepts in your website?
can they be used to provide context around your articles? Can readers use them to better understand your texts?
are they necessary to better understand the connections between other concepts in your vocabulary?
If you can answer yes to at least one of these questions, then it’s a good idea to turn these existing articles or pages into entities. They will become new means to connect your other articles through internal links and semantic recommendations.
If you want to learn more about building your first vocabulary, don’t miss this article that suggests the 8 golden rules to create a vocabulary with WordLift.
A release developed with? and… with the help of our users
WordLift 3.15 brings a major change in the way users have experienced our plugin from the very beginning of their journey. To be honest we wouldn’t have got to this point by ourselves, it would have been way too complicated: we are here thanks to the precious help and dedication of a selected pool of experts that pushed us to the limits and helped us build this new release.
In the last months, WordLift has been chosen to organize content of large editorial websites with hundreds of thousands of pages and a considerable amount of traffic (5M+ visits per month). These websites already had enough content to define, describe and contextualize their core knowledge base. Whether it were articles or pages, it didn’t make sense to create new pages to start up the vocabulary that WordLift needs to structure the content. It was so much better for these users to transform existing content into entities.
It was right in the middle of the summer when we decided to fly both Mark and David to Rome and we engaged with a selected group of highly opinionated digital marketing pros for a 2-day hackathon to explore how to organize vast websites with WordLift’s entity based content model.
Our Dev & Design team at work during the hackathon. From left to right: our UX Designer Claudio Salatino, our CTO David Riccitelli, and our developer Mark Kaplun
We collected the suggestions coming from experienced SEO consultants such as Mark Bryce Sharron and Roberto Serra, and we had the opportunity to talk about WordLift cold start problem with the well-known Italian growth hacker and blogger Raffaele Gaito who gave us the most simple and precious advice:
«Get out of your technical minds and embrace your users’ point of view.»
In other words: simplify the life of your clients.
We worked on WordLift 3.15 keeping his words in mind. As soon as the first prototype was ready we asked our long-time customer and friend Rainer Edlinger to test it on his blog Whisky Circle. For many years, Rainer has been writing premium content about world-famous spots in the Whisky sector and was passionately interested in turning these articles into entities. Thanks to Rainer we optimized the new search box that helps you linking your entities with equivalent entities in the linked data cloud.
Build your Vocabulary with the Content you already have
Turning existing articles and pages into entities is super-easy. Just go to ‘Edit‘ from any article or page on your website and change ‘Article’ to the expected ‘Entity type‘.
Turn your articles and pages into entities with one click
When you turn a piece of content into an entity, don’t forget to curate it by adding the metadata WordLift needs to describe the entity to machines.
One metadata that really pushes your entity rating up is the sameAs property that allows to you connect your entity with other equivalent entities in the web of data.
Connect your entities with Linked Open Data using the sameAs
When WordLift runs the analysis on your articles, it uses natural language processing to detect the relevant concepts and to connect them automatically with existing resources in the Linked Open Data cloud using the sameAs property.
When you create a new entity from scratch or when you convert a blog post into an entity, you need to manually add the sameAs property and this can be time-consuming. With WordLift 3.15 you can run a simple search that traverses different datasets to find the sameAs links that you need for your entity.
In the metadata fields look for the sameAs field, start typing a keyword and match the corresponding entities. If you can’t find anything, try to use a different keyword or a shorter one. See the gif below, it’s easier than it seems. ?
Meet the new WordLift Entity Search to add schema.org sameAs
Do it and you will truly benefit from the wealth of the Linked Open Data on the web. How?
Your content is enriched with additional information and relations coming from the LOD
Your content becomes unambiguously identified
Last but not least, WordLift‘s AI-powered content analysis will work better each time that entity occurs on your articles and pages.
Findability really is a key topic these days if you work with content and if you’re wondering how to leverage on conversational UIs and artificial intelligence.
Whether you are creating content that can easily be picked up by Personal Digital Assistant like Google Assistant, Cortana or Amazon Echo or you’re developing your own AI to power a chatbot over Facebook Messenger, you are indeed working to make your content more accessible and easier to be found.
Findability is about creating a context and guiding the user to make their next move into the funnel.
Every day we read about a new chatbot trying to achieve miraculous results and behind these low-level (or narrow) AIs there is always content playing its magic. Content is essential in many ways and typically comes in three forms:
data that the chatbot needs to answer a specific question (“how old is Andrea Volpini?”)
a content card that can bring the user one step closer to the target (i.e. the landing page of a product or an explanatory article on how the ledger works in a blockchain)
a media asset (an infographic or a video when the device has a display or an audio content).
When creating a conversation UI the structure is always the same and it’s made of a scenario, some intents, a context and… knowledge (the content part).
The scenario depicts the user in a specific condition (i.e. training for my next race, waiting for a connecting flight at the airport or spending time by looking at the ceiling). Each scenario is defined by a series of potential intents (or requests), typically organized in a tree structure (i.e. “what is my pace right now? ok, when will I complete this training session then?” or “when is boarding on my next flight starting? Is the flight on time?”).
The intents are all the things that the user might ask during the interaction with the chatbot, the context is everything being said until that point plus other contextual variables such as the type of device being used, the capability of the device (ie there is a screen to render a web page or it can also play videos) the location of the user and so on.
The knowledge needs to be exposed with a set of APIs and somehow is connected to your content management system. After all a chatbot, in most cases, is just another entry point and/or, in many cases, is the only chance to engage with users trapped in the flow of their social media streams.
Marketing is really about efficiency and if you are planning to make your content smarter to prepare for voice search, you can really plan to re-use the same content and the same metadata also for building your own chatbot.
The 6 steps to make your website talk
Let me give you an example to walk you through the 5 steps required to prepare your content for voice search and AI-driven experiences.
1. Choose an intent that you want to address
As I was preparing the content for the Main Street ROI Webinar with Nils De Moor (CTO and co-founder of WooRank) I looked at recurring questions that I personally have after choosing a Webinar that I’m interested in and I picked one: “When is the webinar on xyz?”.
This is the typical long tail question (made of 6 words with all articles and propositions in the text – as expected from this type of voice search queries) that I would keep on asking before an event.
Typically Who/What/How questions are more generic than When/Where questions. A “When” question, implies that the person is already convinced to attend the webinar, whether when someone is asking a “Who” question (like “Who is Andrea Volpini?”) he or she might still be evaluating the quality of the event.
2. Provide the answer using structured data
Make sure that, when possible, the structured data behind your pages are providing the answer unambiguously. For a “When” that is referred to an event (and a webinar is indeed an online event), using the schema.org vocabulary we can use a specific property that indicates the starting time of the event. It’s called startTime and it can be expressed using date times in UTC format. This information shall be available on the page of the event (the webinar page on my site) but it can also be injected in other articles where I’m mentioning this upcoming webinar. At the metadata level, every concept like our event will have its own unique ID to ensure consistency in the data across multiple web pages (or even multiple websites). So every time I’m mentioning the webinar I can add a reference to the unique ID of the event in my linked data graph and I can repurpose the startDate.
The importance of Rank Zero results
Since the introduction of the Featured Snippets in 2014, Google is trying to answer to users’ searches with quick organic answers and not only with the list of links we used to see before.
These answers are the so-called Rank Zero results: they are composed by an extracted answer (which takes data from other websites around), a display title and an URL. Sometimes they happen to be enriched with images, tables, bulleted lists and more.
Thanks to their position on the SERP, Rank Zero results tend to have a very high CTR.
3. Build content around your answer to provide a context
We want to prepare content that fits into a specific moment (or micro-moments as Google would call it). It’s clear that we need to provide an immediate answer in some cases (i.e. a “When” question demands a clear date in the response) but at the same time, we want to entice the user to find out more. We need a narrative that brings additional value to our users.
We do it all the time when we converse among humans.
One asks a question, and while providing the answer the other moves the conversation one step ahead by adding more details. The same applies to human-to-computer interactions. While you expect an answer you are also usually happy to discover more semantically related content that gravitates around your primary request.
To do so I created a very simple content model that was indeed informed by the same schema.org vocabulary that search engines use to describe online content. It’s called entity-based content model and the principle is simple:
Everything is an entity (a data point describing a thing that exists in the real world with all its attributes), every entity has a corresponding web page and entities are connected one to another in a meaningful way – yes, you get to decide, in your graph, what connects to what.
The pillar content sits at the center of the diagram, this is the main page that describes the event with all its corresponding properties (as seen above for, the startDate it is one of them). Linking to and/from here there are other entities and their equivalent web pages. An entity-page about the host of the webinar Scott Abel, an entity-page related to voice search optimization and an entity-page for WordLift. These pages are considered “Cluster content” – they provide both a context and a way to entice the user to discover more about the webinar.
4. Page Load Time is a great SEO opportunity
PageSpeed appears to play a major role in voice search SEO. The average voice search result page loads in 4.6 seconds.
A Voice Search study by Backlinko on the importance of page speed.
The relationship between website loading speed and voice search is pretty clear since the PageSpeed of the results has been analyzed from Backlinko. The result? The typical loading speed of a voice search result was much faster than most web pages (52% faster than the average page).
People want Google’s answers to be precise but also as fast as possible, an that also applies for Voice Search results. When you ask a question to your Personal Assistant, the answer should be fast: no one likes to wait for a device that lazily spits out an answer. Therefore, it’s plausible that Google’s voice search algorithm would use PageSpeed as a key ranking signal. So that’s what you need to do: just make sure your site loads as quickly as possible.
5. Make sure that both the answer and the content are easily accessible via APIs
When using WordLift a semantic layer is added to your pages that transforms them into entity-pages (this means that a corresponding data point is created off-page and it is referenced on-page using structured data markup and a specific format called JSON-LD). This layer can be accessed by crawling each page (search engines, fact-checking bots crawl your page, look at the metadata and, when available, process it to gain more information about the page). A file with all the metadata is delivered asynchronously using the JSON format and it is accessible in a programmatic way. Just to give you an example if you run from your terminal window this command:
You are going to receive the metadata that describes the page about the webinar from our website with all its corresponding properties.
Above you can see the graph visualization of the JSON-LD file created by WordLift for the Webinar (the graph is built by the JSON-LD playground and you can explore it from here)
This is extremely useful if you know from your CMS what page contains the information you need and it’s fairly easy to use if you know your way around JSON parsing. This simple JSON-LD file also includes a reference to all the other entity-pages that might be used in the conversation (i.e. the entity-page about Scott Abel, the entity-page on voice search optimization and the entity-page about WordLift).
6. Develop a chatbot, stand out on search results or do both to plug your content into your favorite personal digital assistant
As your content is now semantically-rich and properly structured using the schema.org vocabulary you can basically connect with your audience in two ways:
you let search engines and personal assistants do their work and you hope to be featured on their voice-enabled results (competition here can be fierce as you can imagine)
you create your own intent for your own favorite personal digital assistant to make sure users will be able to interact with the content from your website.
I succeeded in doing both. The enriched webinar page was featured as #1 result in Google for the intent that I was optimizing for. This also means that when the question was asked to the Google Assistant the webinar page was provided as the first result and you can see in the example below that the structured data has been essential in providing the user with the actual date of the webinar (as a nice side effect you can see the result had two links instead of just one).
Findability in the era of Semantic Search
I also created a conversational experience for the Google Assistant using the data from the website along with API.AI, one of the many chatbot platforms, that helped me glue the intents, the context and package the answers. Here below a diagram of the workflow: the Messaging Platform, in this case, is the Google Assistant and API.AI is the NLP & Bot framework that I used.
Chatbots: a simple use-case
In this way, starting from the same entity-based content model I was able to reach a wider audience and to give a new life to my content.
If you’re interested in knowing more about making your website talk, watch this 1-hour webinar with me and Nils from WooRank. It’s free!