Oops! I’m not meant to say that.
I mean, what would Germaine Greer have to say about that?
Actually, she would approve. When Germaine Greer, in “The Female Eunuch,” wanted to stress what a woman gave away in a traditional marriage, she used the passive voice.
Grammar zealots and classic literature writers, bear with me. There is a point to this.
Web Headlines Benefit From The Passive Voice
We ain’t writing English literature or old school journalism here. We’re referring to using the passive voice in web headlines.
Usability expert Jakob Nielsen writes at Alertbox: “Active voice is best for most web content, but using passive voice can let you front-load important keywords in headings, blurbs and lead sentences. This enhances scannability and thus SEO effectiveness.”
See, I told you there was a point to this.
Writers are often taught to avoid the passive voice, especially in things like headlines. But there’s no grammatical rule that says you shouldn’t use it.
Err Wait A Sec… What IS The Passive Voice?
The passive voice is a grammatical form where the subject of a sentence is the object of its main verb. For example:
“We were invited by our friends to attend their party.”
If you were to write this in the active voice, the sentence would be:
“Our friends invited us to attend their party.”
Active voice is usually better than using the passive voice because it’s more direct and to the point. Generally, readers respond better to active voice because it’s a direct representation of what’s happening. Their brain doesn’t have to work as hard to figure it out.
That means readers’ brains work harder getting meaning out of passive sentences. It’s easier to understand a sentence written using the active voice. Readers have less chance of getting confused and usability increases when users need fewer mental transformations to convert a sentence into actionable understanding.
When writing web content, our goal is always to create an experience for our readers… a pleasurable experience. That means it’s up to you to make the reading process easy for your reader. For example, typography, colors and spacing are important elements that must be considered in the design of web pages to ensure a pleasurable reading experience.
So is using active or passive voice in your web content.
When Is It OK To Use The Passive Voice?
Users scan Web content in an F-pattern, and often read only the first two words of a paragraph. Usability studies show that the eye scans down the left edge of any text; so you need to get the most relevant keywords into the opening of your sentences.
That means you may want to take the opportunity to front-load the first two words of your headline or post title.
For example, “Nike runners are worn by more athletes than any other shoe.” Don’t say “More athletes wear Nike runners than any other shoe.”
Nielsen says that the passive voice enables you to put keywords and key concepts at the front of the headline, making it easier for people who scan headlines. It also helps the reader to understand the real meaning words at the beginning.
Selecting the words to use on a page title or headline is a design consideration.
Nielsen advises “selecting the first two words is probably the highest-impact ROI-boosting design decision you’ll make. Front-loading important keywords trumps most other design considerations.”