Introduction

2 words.

That's all people see when they scan links and headlines on your pages.

11 characters, on average.

That's all you get to attract people's attention on your SharePoint site.

That's what a Nielsen Norman Group study found when they studied how users read online content.

Why should you care?

Let's take the SharePoint news list for Contoso:

What you think they see

I'm sure you'll agree that every news article on the list above is important. Right?

Now, if people really see the first 11 characters of a headline, let's show what they actually see when they scan the news articles:

What they see

Hmmm, doesn't make much sense, does it?

The average length of Fortune 1000 company names is 14 characters long. Even if you don't work for a Fortune 1000, chances are your company name takes valuable space in headlines.

That's attention-grabbing space you could use to get your employees to pay attention to.

In this article, we'll discuss how to create news that will make your employees pay attention to.

Don't read further!

My mentor at McKinsey & Co once gave me the definition of communicate:

To communicate is to convey a message that results in a change in behaviour.

If you don't get the desired change in behaviour, you're making noise. You're not communicating.

This article assumes that you want to write news and headlines because you want a change in behaviour:

  • Start doing something they haven't been doing.
  • Stop doing something they have been doing.
  • Change their perception of things.
  • Raise their awareness.

If you don't care about changing behaviours, you don't need to read this article. You can post a comment to say how great this article was and I won't tell anyone.

Otherwise, read on!

Readers don't give a F

In another study, Neilsen Norman Group found that when people read online content, they read in a F-pattern.

That is: when reading online, people take some time to read the first few items in a list. As they continue to read through the list, they read less and less.

Eyetracking
Eye-tracking study, source: Nielsen Norman Group

Eventually, they scan through the left side of the list.

That's when they only see the first few words of a list item. They'll see a little more if you use shorter words, and less if you use long words.

They don't actually count 11 characters and stop reading.

Also, the F-shaped pattern is not the only reading pattern. There are others.

One thing is clear: people scan content when they read.

The importance of microcontent

Microcontent is a type of content that consists of short text fragments. You find microcontent in page titles, headlines, email subjects, etc.

In SharePoint, the News web part is a bunch of microcontent.

Microcontent is often shown out of context. For example, the aggregated news in your SharePoint start page, or in search results.

Microcontent helps readers when they scan. It lets them decide what they should click on.

Microcontent also helps readers search and save. They may find your news through search results and open each result in a new tab. Or they may add the links to their favourites. When they come back to your links, you need to provide them with context.

Whatever they do, you need to write your content so that it makes sense for users.

Elements of a news article

Every news article in your SharePoint site should consist of two microcontent elements:

Headline (or Hede)

The short text that grabs the user's attention. SharePoint uses the title of your news article as the headline.

When you write headlines, you should consider the following tips:

  • Use plain language: resist the temptation to be fancy. Even highly-educated users want succinct information that is easy to scan.
  • Remove non-essential words: to improve scanning.
  • Keywords at the front: to catch people's attention.
  • Follow a convention: write headlines in a consistent manner. It will help your users guess the rest of the sentence. Even if they only read the first 11 characters.
  • Use numerals: if you have to use numbers in your headline, don't write out the number. Write 2 instead of Two. It takes less valuable attention-grabbing space.
  • Don't be clever: be meaningful.

Consider skipping these words:

  • The
  • A
  • To

Even better, skip these words too:

  • Announcing
  • Introducing
  • Exclusive
  • Special
  • And any other made-up jargon that tempts you

Lead (or Lede)

The one or two paragraphs below the headline.

If the headline's job is to attract attention, the lead's job is to convince the user to click on the article.

They should be:

  • Useful: Be specific and provide facts to get your users interested.
  • Urgent: Provide a sense of urgency to push your users to read the article. Now company policy? Give them the deadline to adopt it.
  • Unique: fight information overload. Make it easy for your readers to know if they have already read this article.
  • Ultra-specific: use real numbers, real names and real ideas.

Most important: resist the temptation not to write a lead. Tell users what's in it for them.

Links are promises

Remember that links are promises. Every time a user clicks on a link, they expect that whatever page they go to will match what they clicked on.

Every time you break a promise by taking a user somewhere different than what they clicked. When you do, you chip away at their trust.

If you want people to use SharePoint, it needs to become a trusted and authoritative source of information. Every time you break users' trust, you lose credibility. People will stop going to SharePoint to find information.

You should allow your users to confidently predict what they'll get if they click. Do not be misleading or promise too much.

Don't click here

Whatever you do, don't use "Click here" in your headline or lead. That's soooo 1995!

Other than being uncool, here are reasons why you shouldn't use "Click here":

  • It isn't informative: when people scan your content, hyperlinks tend to grab attention. If your hyperlink doesn't say anything useful, chances are that users won't spend the time to find out if the link is worth their ti,e.
  • Not action-oriented: remember how we said that to communicate is to [get] a change in behavior? This is your opportunity to tell people what you expect them to do.
  • Insulting: people know what links are. They know what to expect. If you tell them to "Click here", you tell your users that you don't trust their intelligence.
  • Accessibility: Users who are visually-impaired often rely on screen readers. When navigating a web page using a screen reader, it will often read out the hyperlinks. You end up with a screen reader that says "Click here, click here, click here...".
  • Crappy search results: Remember that people scan search results as well. If all your headlines contain "Click here", you're making it more difficult to find results.

How to create a SharePoint news item with a headline and a lead

Enough theory. Let's create a news article!

  1. From your SharePoint site, select New followed by News post
    New | News Post
    (optionally, you can select Add from the News web part, then News post)
    Add | News post
  2. From the New Page page, enter the headline where it says Name your news post.
    New your news post
  3. From the toolbar at the top, select Page details
    Page details
  4. In the Page details pane that opens, enter your lead in the Description field. Do. Not. Skip. This.
  5. Write your content.
  6. When done, select Post news (or Save as draft if you aren't quite ready to publish).
    Post news

Enjoy your new news article!

How to create a link to a news article

Sometimes you just need to link people to news that are hosted somewhere else. You don't need an article, you just need a link.

Here's how to do this:

  1. From your SharePoint site, select New followed by News link (or Add|News link from the News web part)
    New | News link
  2. In the News link pane, enter the URL in the Link field. Make sure to include the https:// (or http://) prefix.
    News link pane
  3. SharePoint will attempt to verify the link and retrieve the news link's headline and lead. Make sure to update the Title and Description field with your headline and lead
    News link details
  4. Select Post.

Conclusion

SharePoint News is an awesome new feature of SharePoint modern sites.

If you want your employees to read your news, make sure your headlines attract attention.

In this article, I focused on headlines and leads. I did not discuss other aspects of the news. That's for another article.

I hope this article will help create news that will improve your SharePoint experience!

For more information

Author

Independent consultant. Certified SCRUM Master. SharePoint, Office 365 and Dynamics 365 are his favourite toys.

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