In today’s hyper-competitive world, people’s attention is in extremely high demand. In the digital space, in fact, you could say that attention is the hottest commodity of all – every company wants a piece of it, and most will do almost anything to get it (clickbait, content marketing, ad spend, etc.).
But with so many distractions and so many players competing for a slice of the same pie, a growing body of research is suggesting that people’s attention span is in equally short supply.
So what does that look like in terms of digital content consumption, and what are the implications for marketers?
The numbers are in – everybody is skim reading
Social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit are designed to be addictive, and we’d be lying if we said we hadn’t lost an entire day (or ten) scrolling through them ourselves.
Gone are the days of broadsheet newspapers and long-form articles – the vast majority of us now seemingly want skimmable, easy-to-read content that can be consumed in a few minutes or less. Don’t believe us? Here are the facts:
– 55% of page views are less than 15 seconds in duration
– Eight out of 10 people only read headlines, and 6 of out 10 people will share an article they haven’t even read
– Microsoft researchers claim that today’s customers have an average attention span of just 8 seconds (down from 12 seconds in 2000)
– A study by Nielsen found that most people read online content in an ‘F-shaped’ pattern, skimming the page for headlines and opening sentences to cherry-pick the most important pieces of information
So how can we create engaging content that captures people’s attention and encourages them to stick around – preferably for more than a few seconds?
The move to skimmable content
Writing good web content used to be solely about telling a compelling story. It didn’t matter so much how many words were used, or how it was laid out on the page – it just had to be interesting.
But that was before the days of total information overload, and while effective storytelling is still the foundation of any successful website or blog, content writing has changed significantly in the Age of Attention Deficit. Here are some of the new rules…
1. Break large paragraphs up into smaller digestible chunks
Very few people are going to read a block of text more than 4-5 sentences long – no matter how well written it is (unless you write for The New Yorker). To keep your audience on the page for longer, break up your paragraphs with plenty of subheadings and lots of white space.
Font size is also important. If your page looks cluttered and messy, readers aren’t going to stick around and put the extra effort in to navigate it – they’re going to leave as fast as they arrived (this is known as a high bounce rate).
2. Put the need-to-know information in the subheadings
No matter how skim-friendly you make your content, some users will still only read the headings and subheadings – and that’s okay! A click is still a click, and every person who visits your website is an opportunity to qualify them a lead for your business.
As a result, it’s a good idea to include the most important information (and keywords) in the subheadings, as this allows skim-readers to navigate the content and find what they came looking for with ease. Leave them feeling good, and they may just come back again for longer!
3. Use bullet points and lists whenever you can
Nobody wants to read paragraph after paragraph of text – if they did, they would have picked up a book! Online, bullet points, and lists reign supreme. For one, they’re a great (and easy) way to break up the flow of your copy, adding some variety to the page and improving the readability.
Not only that, bullet points are a good opportunity to include internal and external links (scroll back up to see what we mean). Linking not only encourages readers to click through to other pages of your website – but they’re also fantastic for SEO performance.
Write for skim-readers to earn full-time readers
As you can probably see, writing for skim readers is all about making your content as painless to consume as possible. The second a visitor feels they have to make an effort to read your homepage or blog, they’re as good as gone.
Ultimately, readers will only stick around if they have reason to believe your words will be worth their time, and making sure the page looks (and reads) the part is the first and most important step to convince them.
So… what makes good website content writing in an age when so many people aren’t even reading? A bit like this, we hope.