Get Active in Content

July 23rd, 2007

Internet content’s primary use is as a sales tool and when selling something it’s always best to use an active voice.

Compare these two sentences:

“The cost per square foot was said to be uneconomic by one in three of businesses questioned in the survey”

and

“One in three businesses questioned in the survey said the cost per square foot was uneconomic”

The second is written in the active voice: it sells the content in a more positive way. That content could be sold more effectively still:

“A third of businesses say the cost per square foot is uneconomic, a survey shows”

As well as being more readable, the active-voice content now has the benefit of being much shorter, especially as the brain subliminally discards the last clause (“a survey shows”).

The comparitive brevity of the active voice is attractive to anyone trying to produce SEO-friendly content, the Golden Rule of SEO-friendly content being: “Keep it to 250 words or less!”

When writing sentences of content in the active voice, the subject (“a third of businesses”) performs the action expressed in the verb (“say”) — the subject acts. In the passive voice, the subject receives the action expressed in the verb — the subject is acted upon.

You can spot passive voice in content by the overuse of “be” — or one of its forms (“am”, “are”, “been”, “is”, “was” or “were”) — or the phrase “by the…” after the verb. Passive-voiced content is usually stuffed with prepositions — so-called Lazy Words — which can make it dull and lifeless: not the impression you’d want a salesman to give.

Remember too that most content never gets read. Any stats package will show most page views last seconds, which equates to a glance before moving on. The active voice gets content across from the start and may even help extend those seconds into minutes … or a bookmark.



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