I clearly remember that first day I wandered into an IKEA megastore.
A line from that famous Eagles song came to mind: “Welcome to the Hotel California… You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
The Selfish Path
IKEA, a Swedish-based retail chain that specializes in low-cost household items, designs its stores with only one way in and one way out. The path to freedom mazes shoppers through the entire store, most of which is completely irrelevant to the shopper.
There are no shortcuts, no easy way to find what you like, and no friendly assurances that you’ll actually get what you’re after. By the time you reach the checkout line at the end of a mile-long, zig-zagging path, you have been exposed to far more than you bargained for and are likely frustrated and exhausted.
From Selfish to Safeway
Does the above sound like some white papers, articles or blog posts you have read or even written? Unlike IKEA shoppers, it’s a lot easier for a bored or frustrated reader to head for the exit. And they will if you treat them the way IKEA treats its artificially-confined customers.
Let’s carry the retail analogy a bit further. You can gain some better insights from your favorite grocery store.
Rather than wandering up and down aisles looking for vitamin B6 or Pop-Tarts, most grocery stores place helpful signs around the store to guide you. And even though they may put the milk at the back of the store to expose you to more items along the way, they don’t restrict your path—you can look for the dairy section and travel straight there.
Don’t Create IKEA Content
Similarly, well-written content must clearly guide its readers. Plus, it should remain relevant to the goals of the reader, by sticking to the promises you made to get them to read in the first place.
The key to avoiding the IKEA trap is to expose salient points to the reader in a clean and efficient manner. Don’t make the reader digest more than a few sentences before the section objectives become clearly evident. Make sure that EVERYTHING you discuss is relevant and related to the topic of the paper or post.
You should also use compelling subheads to help people make their way through your content and find what they need, all while enticing them to read more. Try adding sidebars and callouts to summarize key points for the rushed shopper.
Relevancy + Engagement = Happy Readers
Make no mistake, the goal of a persuasive piece of writing is to take the reader down the path you would like for them to travel, and ultimately to the conclusion you wish for them to reach. IKEA takes the wrong approach by making people suffer through the extraneous in order to (hopefully) satisfy their goals. Don’t make this mistake with your content.
Make the path of your content relevant and engaging every step of the way, and your readers will be happy and more likely to buy or take positive action. The simple tips in this article will help you guide your readers all the way through to the last page of your white paper or the end of your article, and leave them satisfied with the experience.
Michael Stelzner is author of the bestselling book, “Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged.” Learn how you can get a free copy of his book by clicking here.