“Gather around everyone, and we’ll discuss active voice and its role in digital marketing.”
Wait, how about this…
“Active voice and its role in digital marketing will be discussed by us after everyone has gathered around.”
Now, which of these two sentences do you find engages your attention and reads easier? My guess is on the first, since I utilize active voice to make it sound present, cut down on its word count, and flow better than the latter. I realize sentence structure takes many forms, and depending on the type of content, will vary in tone and style, e.g. some address the audience directly to make things conversational, others keep things purely educational or informative, etc.
We’ll go over all that and more (with examples!), but first thing’s first: what is the active voice?
What is Active Voice? What is Passive Voice?
Put in the simplest (most boring) terms, the phrase active voice refers to a sentence structure in which a subject performs the verb’s action upon an object. The subject, verb, and object are the basic parts of most complete sentences, and with the active voice they generally appear in that respective order.
Passive voice sentences, on the other hand, take several forms but generally switch the position of the object and subject. So, instead of the active voice’s subject → verb → object sequence, passive voice takes the form of object → verb → subject. What’s that you say? More examples? If you insist:
Passive Voice: “If funds are withdrawn by the holder before the term is up, a penalty will be incurred by them.”
Active Voice: “If the holder withdraws funds before the term is up, they incur a penalty.”
An almost textbook example of simply switching subject + object placement to switch from passive to active voice. In this example, the holder is the subject of the sentence, withdraw is the verb, and funds is the object.
A comma combines the first sentence with a second, along with its own complete structure to form one longer sentence, but we see the same fix is applied here. For this second sentence, they refers to the holder and is once again the subject, incur is the verb, and penalty is the object. Acute readers may point out that will is also a verb, but it is an auxiliary verb which clarifies tense in this sentence, and incur is considered the main verb. The sentence sounds much cleaner when we remove the extraneous wordage and bring things into present tense.
Why is Active Voice Better Than Passive Voice for Content Marketing and SEO?
The short of it is, when writers utilize the active voice, they create pieces of content which are overall more engaging to their audience.
What do we mean by “engaging?” Simply put, the active voice sentence structure draws your readers in and keeps their attention longer and more actively than passive voice. As previously mentioned, people are more likely to read through content that is concise and to the point, i.e. communicates the important stuff with lower word count. Each sentence more pleasantly rolls into the next when writing this way, and extra wordage can make readers feel bored or like their time is being wasted.
Active voice also helps writers come off as more authoritative or credible on the topics they write about. There is a confidence in the overall tone of active voice content, which passive voice fails to capture.
How do I write in Active Voice?
In my personal experience, the best way to ensure your content is in the active voice is to simply edit in post. Idea-dump what you can without worrying too much about tone, but after you are confident you have the basic structure of the content on paper (whatever that may be), go through and read the content out loud to yourself. Whether you do so literally or in your head, I leave up to you (…and the people around you).
As you read through your piece, you should obviously identify where passive voice exists due to some switched subjects and objects, but also be aware of your excitement or attention levels dropping even when the sentence structure is in the active voice. I know excitement can be relative to the subject matter of the written content, but you should know there are other methods to make the active voice even more active other than just switching subjects and objects.
Let’s use one last example:
“If you’ve been exploring various savings methods lately, you may have come across credit unions as an option.”
Both sentences on either side of the comma here are technically in active voice, but as you read through it I’m sure you detect some extra wordage. We’ll try editing and removing auxiliary verbs like before, and we get:
“If you are exploring various savings methods, you may come across credit unions as an option.”
We edit the first auxiliary verb been into are to bring the sentence into present tense, and we’ve removed the auxiliary verb have for the same reason. However, there is more we can do. Specifically, a good rule of thumb is to try and turn verbs into their base forms without the -ing suffix to make things sound more active, such as the word exploring in this example:
“As you explore various savings methods, you will come across credit unions as an option.”
This sentence sounds much more active, and exudes a confidence by using will instead of may without changing the overall meaning of the second sentence.
The Bottom Line
Simply put, active voice makes content more readable than passive voice. Being aware of things like subjects and objects in the wrong places, unnecessary auxiliary verbs, and other extraneous wordage is a great start to consistently writing content in the active voice. In this day and age of dwindling attention spans, it is more important than ever to utilize the active voice effectively in digital marketing.