Only 17 years ago, in 2000, the average attention span was recorded at 12 seconds. Now, more than a decade later, Microsoft has concluded that the average attention span sits at around eight seconds – that’s less than that of a goldfish.
So, is it technology that’s to blame for our diminishing concentration levels? Yes, perhaps, but we’re not just bored - we’re also impatient.
It’s no secret that we all enjoy a good story but online, many of us only read the headlines – in fact, eight out of ten of us don’t even get beyond the first sentence and, even if we do, half of us won’t read the content until the end.
Why don’t we scroll down?
We all take fast and easy access to everything online for granted.
The way we consume content, along with the volume of what is available to us online, also plays a role. Myriads of articles, how-to guides and blogs to sift through on the web has created a generation of impatient readers who are guilty of switching from one piece of content to the next.
But, for content creators and marketers, this attitude is a big challenge to overcome.
Are images helpful or harmful to reading habits?
Engaging with your readers visually is sometimes lauded as a solution for grabbing, and keeping, your audience’s attention. Sometimes the image alone is what draws us in, rather than the headline. If we need visual stimulation to help us read, then each image’s relevance and contextualisation is crucial.
Recently, there has been a lot of discussion on the topic of how images can be guilty of fueling fake news. With a misleading caption, or indeed no caption at all, the mind can extrapolate a whole range of non-truths from what the eyes are physically seeing.
‘Show don’t tell’ is writing gospel, and images do just this. However, sometimes, a brand’s great efforts to portray a message can be warped; Dove’s latest advert depicting a black woman removing a t-shirt to reveal a white woman underneath has received criticism and backlash all over the world for its racist imagery. With or without a caption, this advert misses the mark.
12 tips to win over impatient readers
If you’re looking for ways to encourage readers to engage with your content, and stick with it until the end, take a look at these top tips:
1) Focus on your headline
Headlines should be attention-grabbing, but also accurately describe what readers can expect from the content in order to avoid misleading the audience.
2) Keep introductions short, engaging and to the point
If your introduction doesn’t capture your audience’s attention, they won’t feel inclined to read to the end of your content. Use your introduction to show readers that your content is valuable and thought provoking.
3) Ask your readers questions
By asking your readers questions in your content, you’ll not only capture their attention, but also encourage them to keep reading in order to find the answer.
4) Include quotes and statistics
Articles that feature quotes from industry experts and thought leaders will stand out to your readers as more authoritative than an article that is based entirely on your own thoughts and opinions. Statistics also help your copy to be more concrete, reliable and credible.
5) Make your copy easy to read and digest
Use subheadings, one-line paragraphs and short sentences to enable readers to scan your content. A text-heavy article or blog post can be daunting to readers and put them off reading the entire article.
6) Embed hyperlinks, but don’t overload the article
Linking out in your article will add credibility to your points, but when there’s too many hyperlinks your readers might be more tempted to click out to a new piece of content than continue reading yours.
7) Source relevant images responsibly - and contemplate your captions!
As we mentioned earlier on, captions have the ability to enhance your article but, if used incorrectly, they can mislead readers. Make sure the image is relevant to your article - don’t use an image to try and ‘trick’ readers into clicking on your content.
8) Find a unique style and tone of voice
As a brand or content owner, the way your articles are written should be unique to you. If you’re writing for consumers, your tone should be more informal and light-hearted than a B2B brand; make sure the way you write is appropriate for your readers.
9) Be social media and mobile friendly
Readers often share instead of scroll, so consider how your content will be presented across each platform to entice new readers. And, of course, if your content displays badly on mobile readers are unlikely to read to the end.
10) Make your call to action clear
What is the purpose of your content? Whether you want your readers to share your content, subscribe to email updates or simply ‘like’ or ‘follow’ your page, make this clear. However, be wary of ‘spamming’ your audience with your CTA - readers are unlikely to comply if they feel pressured.
11) Incorporate storytelling
Storytelling is one of the most effective tactics to help your audience relate to you and your business; humanising something and making it more personal will encourage people to read on as they’re able to relate to your topic on an emotional level.
12) Remember that sometimes the most interesting content will create more questions than answers
If your headline asks a direct question, and implies that the answer will be found within the article, then make sure you provide answers - otherwise you risk frustrating your readers and putting them off reading future content. However, by leaving some questions unanswered, you’ll stir a curiosity in your readers and leave them with something to reflect on.
So, how do we keep them reading?
Tough question. Perhaps the solution is not only in the construction of language but also in the mindset of the reader. It’s crucial, therefore, to do your research and understand your audience and make sure that your content connects to their interests, needs or values.
It goes without saying that you need an interesting or newsworthy topic. While a snappy headline might get the initial clicks, your readers will disengage if the information takes too much effort to digest.
By Claire Wilson, content strategy director at Stratton Craig
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