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Accessibility and Usability Forum

Inverted Pyramid Writing
What is it and how does it influence a site's relevance?

 10:00 pm on Feb 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

Are you familiar with the term Inverted Pyramid Writing (IPW)? You probably are now after Googling it. ;)

To make it short and sweet, Inverted Pyramid Writing uses the first paragraph of a page to serve as a concise summary or abstract of the page content.

Think META Descriptions, Google Snippets, etc. ;)

Have you used the IPW approach?

Web Usability - Allowing Users To Control Content



 10:08 pm on Feb 27, 2006 (gmt 0)

Interesting thought on a possible new use for an old concept. When I was working at a newspaper, the inverted pyramid style was used for two reasons: to give readers enough info right away to get them interested in the story (or decide they're not interested, and go on to the next article), and to be sure the most important part of the story actually made it into the paper - You never know where someone on page layout is going to have to slice off the end of your article so it will fit. (That's why it's a continuous pyramid and not just a sharp drop - Most important info in the first paragraph, next layer of importance in the second, and so on to the end of the article.)

On a website, the second reason wouldn't make much sense, but I'd certainly think the first reason would.


 12:52 am on Feb 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

On a website, the second reason wouldn't make much sense, but I'd certainly think the first reason would.

Are you referring to the Meta Descriptions and Google Snippets?

If so, using the IPW approach is of great benefit. When writing a Meta Description, you ARE writing a concise summary or abstract of the page content.

Google has been displaying Meta Descriptions for quite some time now (at least for sites I manage) and using the Inverted Pyramid Writing approach has produced many positive benefits. For one, Meta Descriptions are being displayed verbatim, word for word, as they are written in the Meta Description tag.


 4:02 pm on Feb 28, 2006 (gmt 0)

I've been gradually going through all my meta descriptions to make them clear and interesting. You have 150 characters + spaces to say something that will appear in the serps. Since I did this I've had increased traffic. It's hard to tell if the improved page titles and meta descriptions are the reason though.

You are talking about doing the same thing on each page though, aren't you pageone?

Jakob Nielsen has an article on his site titled "Why Google Makes People Leave Your Site Faster" Just google it if you are interested. ;)

The fact that people are going to take a quick peek at your site then move on certainly supports the inverted pyramid. At least that way people will get a bit of information before moving on. In Nielsen's words, "Be a snack".


 2:00 pm on Mar 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

Inverted Pyramid is known to all journalists i suppose. I had worked as professional journalist at the start of my career and i was taught 5Ws (who,what,when,why,where optional which) and one H's(how) important creating inverted pyramid stories/articles.


 3:22 pm on Mar 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

The base of the pyramid is the lower-value background information and in-depth explanation of what was summarized earlier - news writers always put that at the end. If the editor needs to shorten the article to fit the space, it's easy to chop from the bottom.

It's not a bad way to write a web page, even if you don't have a copy editor looking over your shoulder. Don't force readers to finish the article to get its point - be sure that if they bail out early, they've got the important message.


 3:52 pm on Mar 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

The inverted-pyramid structure makes sense in the traditional AP-style news story, where facts are presented in the order of their perceived intrinsic importance:

- Lead: 100 people died in a Widgetopolis subway crash at station X of line 1.

- 200 people were injured, and another 50 are missing.

- The crash occurred because of a faulty signal.

- Firefighters and ambulances were still on the scene at 3 p.m.

- Line 1 is expected to be out of service until 8 a.m. tomorrow.

- Subway officials blame the problem on a corroded relay that wasn't replaced because of budget cuts.

- City Hall urges the public to remain calm and blames the problem on cuts in state and federal aid.

Now let's look at another kind of story--a five-page travel article about a city or town. In this case, the organization could be:

- Overview
- What to see
- Where to stay
- Where to eat
- How to get there

But it could just as easily be:

- Overview
- How to get there
- Where to stay
- Where to eat
- What to see

Or even, in some cases:

- Overview
- Where to eat
- What to see
- How to get there
- Where to stay

For a travel article (or a camera review, or a how-to piece), the best structure might simply be the structure that the Web site or publication normally uses, on the theory that familiarity enhances usability.


 5:17 pm on Mar 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

If you really think about this, we, those of us who have been doing SEO, use the IPW approach and probably don't even realize it. I'm going to use the Meta Description as an example. Wouldn't writing the Meta Description be very similar to IPW? Aren't you writing a concise summary of the page when crafting a Meta Description?


 5:47 pm on Mar 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

This approach is pretty standard to any one who has spent time in a writing class. Maybe they are promoting an increased emphasis on more complete introductions/abstracts.


 6:18 pm on Mar 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

And this is why those of us who have been journalists and advertising writers in the past continue to flourish in the SEM world.


 6:34 pm on Mar 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

And this is why those of us who have been journalists and advertising writers in the past continue to flourish in the SEM world.


You make a very valid point babsie1. Journalists, Columnists, etc. all make great writers for websites. Not only because they are geared more towards "meat first, potatoes later" type content writing which is excellent for visitor conversion but, that approach also works well with indexing agents (the search engines, etc.).

It's all about focusing on that first area that the visitor sees (the visual), and behind the scenes the first primary area of content that is visible to the spider. Typically the Title, Meta Description, Heading and first paragraph or block element of content. There is an order to this madness and IPW is an affective approach at really focusing your page for both visitor and spider alike.


 7:43 pm on Mar 1, 2006 (gmt 0)

Interesting thread, a quick glance around shows few sites now make "use" of the description tag....


 1:11 am on Mar 2, 2006 (gmt 0)

That's the way I was taught to write from the very beginning. Introduction/executive summary, details, ending summary/conclusion.


 2:02 am on Mar 2, 2006 (gmt 0)

Darn, PageOne, you're giving away all the secrets!

Seriously, I have used the inverted pyramid, and indeed the whole concept of how a newspaper works in explaining information architecture to clients and potential clients. You can look at the sections of a newspaper as the equivalent of a main menu on a website, with headlines and callouts (read title, description and heading tags) calling the reader's attention to the importance of an individual story.

I ask clients to imagine a newspaper with all the stories and headlines in the same typeface, with box scores mixed in with national news. How hard would it be to figure out what was important and what is not?

By applying both IPW and the natural structure provided by HTML tags, you provide a better experience to both the human and robot users of your site.


 2:54 am on Mar 2, 2006 (gmt 0)


This is one of the reasons why I remain small and within a certain market that I have been in for yeeeears: it's the one I love and know.

I've done some SEM work for folks outside the markets I know but it's harder for me.


 9:00 am on Mar 2, 2006 (gmt 0)

Like people here are saying, it's a very useful concept.

It can be applied to other areas than writing, too. Take care of the most important parts first. Good philosophy.


 9:50 am on Mar 2, 2006 (gmt 0)

IPW and good newspaper-style copy are relevant in terms of accessibility as much as in general usability. IPW has a great influence on understanding for users with cognitive disabilities. Users that fall into this group tend to have difficulties understanding navigation, and large blocks of content can be a daunting experience. IPW helps by presenting a summary which enables the user to access enough of the information without having to tackle the entire text.

It is all part of the notion of letting the user control the content - their content - on your pages. A layered approach wich a concise summary, a longer text with more detail, the use of graphic elements as visual aids (schemas, timelines, etc.): multiple approaches allow for a far wider understanding even for those whose cognitive abilities are altered or impaired.


 4:31 pm on Mar 2, 2006 (gmt 0)

I think you are striking a very important point there. As has already been said, the IPW approach is useful from a SEO/SEM perspective. But this also goes to prove that it is going to benefit every visitor to your page!

Those who have no cognitive disabilities will still benefit from a format which is much easier to read. Those who do suffer from cognitive impairments will be able to digest the content at their own pace and preference.

I see this as a strong case not just for IPW itself, but a strong case to prove that SEO/SEM and accessibility/usability go very much hand in hand! They both benefit from each other. And they do so by implementation of techniques which are uniformly applicable to both!


 1:29 am on Mar 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

As well as using pyramid, I've written features for print that lead with anecdotes - v short stories that should interest reader, lead into the story.
(Think James Bond, where our hero might do some dramatic stuff, set us up for watching the film.)
Tried online too.

Can start in other way - might ask questions, say - but key is to get readers' attention, and have them want to keep on reading; write a real page-clicker.


 3:23 am on Mar 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

It kind of depends on the purpose of the page. If it's a sales page inverted pyramid writing that gets the important info out early makes sense. If the goal is the article itself then questions, intriguing tidbits, etc to get the the reader interested in reading makes more sense than telling it all in the first paragraph.


 9:15 pm on Mar 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

Layering is related to IPW, and it's another thought to consider when you are trying to communicate complex info.

If it's very complex, giving all the facts up front can be overwhelming for readers. Prioritize your info (like inverted pyramid), but offer it in smaller bites. Make sure you offer a very clear structure, leading readers to more info as they want it.

This also applies to building a relationship with site visitors, and giving them a reason to return. Offer an overview, with an obvious link to the details. Add extra info, like sidebars in a magazine, on additional pages. Introduce readers to your people. Share stories from other users or customers.

This is not the right style for every site, or even for most sites. It is one that works well for me and the sites I work with.


 12:28 am on Mar 8, 2006 (gmt 0)

I keep mentioning Steve Krug's book, "Don't Make Me Think" on this forum but what he suggests on building a home page fits the pyramid so well.

1) short pithy tagline

2) a brief welcome blurb

3) if you have to have anything more detailed, a mission statement or whatever, put it on another page. (my suggestion, he just says it won't be read anyway ;)

I'm seeing pyramids everywhere now.

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