Engaging your online audience: 8 practical tips

Before I started working at Yoast to develop our Yoast Academy training courses, I worked as a high school teacher. After starting my job at Yoast, I quickly realized that the educational principles I came across in my previous job were really powerful tools in the online world as well. In this article, I’ll explore three areas to help you engage your online audience: knowledge gaps, memory overload, and creating a connection. I’ll also give lots of practical tips to help you do better yourself.

The curse of knowledge

One problem that you’re likely to run into when maintaining a site or product is the so-called ‘curse of knowledge’. The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that suggests it’s more difficult for experts to explain things to beginners. The Wikipedia entry does a good job of rounding up some key research into the bias. Remember those times you had no idea what the teacher was trying to say and a classmate seemed way better at explaining those things? That’s most likely due to the curse of knowledge. The curse of knowledge is everywhere. And you’re very likely to suffer from it.

The problem: the more you know, the more difficult it is to create something that is clear and intuitive to your users.

Tip #1: Do user research

Before you can solve any problems, you have to identify them first. Get users
without any previous knowledge together in a room. Let them use your product or navigate your site. Find pain points and eliminate them. If getting people into a room is difficult for you, surveys can help as well. Ask people what parts of your product they found difficult to use and use that knowledge to improve it.

Tip #2: Add scaffolding

Actively providing extra context and bridging the knowledge gap between you and your users is crucial. ‘Scaffolding‘ is everything a teacher uses to help someone do something that they can’t do on their own. An essential part of scaffolding is thinking about what another person already knows and using that to help them do something new. That’s exactly what you should do as well. Some things you may consider adding:

  • Clickable question marks that clarify difficult terms; 
  • Internal links to articles that explain a concept you use in a more difficult article; 
  • Images that clarify what you’re trying to say;
  • Tutorial videos;
  • Live chat or email support;
  • Documentation / lessons / articles that your users can use to understand;
  • Step-by-step plans / flowcharts / instructions
  • An indication of the level of an article so users can make an informed choice to read or not to read an article. 

Always try to make this scaffolding as little invasive as possible. You don’t want to annoy more advanced users.

Tip #3: Audit your materials periodically

Often, it helps to look back on something you made at a later time. When you review something you wrote three months ago, you’ve already lost some of the context and perspective you wrote it with. Which, in this case, is a huge advantage!

When you audit your materials, make sure to consider:

  • Your intended message: do the materials convey it effectively?
  • The use of jargon
  • Assumptions about previous knowledge users have available to them
  • Scaffolding 
  • Readability

Minimizing cognitive load

When humans do things, they use a cognitive system called working memory. This memory saves information in our brains for a few seconds to a few minutes. It allows us to make sense of what we’re doing. Unfortunately, working memory is limited. It’s easily overstimulated. When it is, people get frustrated or distracted. This leads to them clicking away or growing tired of your product. Managing working memory is key to keeping your audience engaged. 

Tip #4: Less is more

As creators, we like to get fancy. We want what we make to be cool and fun. Sometimes, this leads to fluff features or content. Carefully consider: does what I’m adding make the whole better? If it doesn’t, remove it. Addition by subtraction is a very powerful tool for engagement. 

Tip #5: Pay a lot of attention to readability

One of the most common problems on websites is readability. Most copy is much more difficult to read than it should be. Writing shorter sentences and using fewer difficult words can help your usability tremendously. Even if your audience is smart, easy-to-read copy is very working memory friendly. It simply costs less energy to read. This energy can then be spent on more important things. One way to improve readability is by ruthlessly editing your copy. Ideally, you should spend more time editing your text than writing it.

Read more: How to use the readability analysis in Yoast SEO »

Tip #6: Break everything down into bite-size chunks

The working memory struggles with large blocks of information. The human mind needs focus, and it’s up to you to create this focus. Don’t write 30-word sentences or 20-sentence paragraphs. Don’t crowd your menu with 20 categories. Don’t stuff 20 options into one tab. It’s overwhelming. Break your materials down into bite-size chunks that are easy to oversee, so your users can focus on what really matters.

Creating a connection

I knew all the theory when I started teaching; that wasn’t the problem. But it wasn’t until I really started connecting with my students that I became a good teacher. One of the most powerful ways to engage your online audience is by creating that fuzzy feeling of comfort, familiarity and connection. And most sites and products don’t do a good enough job of this. Of course, the first requirement is a usable product or site. There are lots of extra things you can do, though, to help reinforce your relationship with your user.

Tip #7: Invest in design and branding

It’s tough to overstate the power of consistent design and branding. Our Yoast avatars are a great example. All over the WordPress community, our avatars are immediately recognized as they stand out from the crowd in e.g. lists of speakers at conferences. The same goes for the images we use in posts and presentations. Providing your users with a similarly positive experience over all the different places where they interact with you, helps you get recognized and valued.

Tip #8: Use the power of storytelling

Stories can be an incredibly powerful medium to make a connection with your audience. Most people remember one or more teachers who were always able to get them on the edge of their seat with great stories which helped them remember what the teacher was trying to explain. Stories and narrative are how people connect and communicate with each other. And storytelling isn’t necessarily about writing a large piece of fiction. You can just as easily hide little nuggets of storytelling in your blog posts or product pages. Yoast CEO Marieke has written a great series on storytelling that you should definitely check out.

Conclusion on engaging your online audience

The tips listed are a collection of insights I gained through my experience as a teacher, product owner and online writer. There are lots and lots more things you can do to make sure your online audience stays engaged. But honestly, if you get all of this right, you’re probably a fair number of steps ahead on almost everyone. Good luck! 

Keep reading: The ultimate guide to content SEO »


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18 Responses to Engaging your online audience: 8 practical tips

  1. Aleksandra Slupinski
    Aleksandra Slupinski  • 1 month ago

    excellent tips! I think we all sometimes get caught up in monetization and growth that we forget to engage the audience we ALREADY have!

    • Jesse van de Hulsbeek

      Thanks, Aleksandra! Definitely, let’s be good to the people that are already there!

  2. expertraininginst
    expertraininginst  • 1 month ago

    Thank you for your useful article.
    #Know Your Target Audience
    You need to know who you want your buyers to be before you try to market to them. This is an important step in any marketing strategy whether it be on or offline, they need to know who their audience is, which social media sites their audience spend time, and then they have to make sure to be able to provide content for the platforms their audience spends time on. When it comes to marketing through social media. Facebook,Instagram is the best sources you can target your audience acc. to their interest.

    • Jesse van de Hulsbeek

      Good points!

  3. Esther
    Esther  • 1 month ago

    Bookmarked!

    • Jesse van de Hulsbeek

      Cool!

  4. Zola
    Zola  • 1 month ago

    Thank you for sharing these valuable tips. I am using the art of storytelling on some of my blog posts and it really gives a different sense to the article. I think creating a connection with the audience is really crucial to keep them interested and subscribing.

    • Jesse van de Hulsbeek

      You’re welcome, Zola! Good to hear that storytelling is working for you!

  5. Nick Stamoulis
    Nick Stamoulis  • 1 month ago

    Once you build your online audience, the work doesn’t stop there! It is so important to keep them engaged, otherwise you could lose the traffic that you worked so hard to build.

    • Jesse van de Hulsbeek

      Definitely, Nick!

  6. info25000
    info25000  • 1 month ago

    Hi,I use Yoast SEO premium plugin for $89 but im not yet see change for my website

    • Jesse van de Hulsbeek

      Hi! That’s unfortunate! Whether you rank depends on more factors than just our plugin, of course. Check out this page for more pointers on how to get your rankings up: https://yoast.com/must-reads-for-website-seo/

  7. deposit pulsa slot
    deposit pulsa slot  • 1 month ago

    Hi sir. I use for my website Yoast SEO plugin too. I love all your articles can you visit my site too and check is my website Seo rank is good or bad? I’m totally new but my friend recommend me to use this plugin

    • Jesse van de Hulsbeek

      Hi there! We don’t do personal site checks anymore, unfortunately!

  8. Thomas
    Thomas  • 1 month ago

    Good information, but how to convert the customer engagement to sales…?

  9. Pascual
    Pascual  • 1 month ago

    Hello

    Google rewards the content, when it is too much content and when it is too little, I speak in general, texts, photos, infographics, videos etc,

    Thank you

    • Jesse van de Hulsbeek

      Yup, those can all be valuable additions to your textual content!