When was the last time you read an article online from start to finish – no skimming or skipping paragraphs? For most of us, consuming an entire piece of content – especially of the long-form variety – is challenging. But if you want to get the most out of your content, you need to make sure your readers are moving beyond the first paragraph.
The challenge of dwindling attention spans
There’s a well-recycled statistic out there that says the human attention span has dwindled from 12 seconds at the start of the century to less than 8 seconds today. And while some people argue the legitimacy of this data point, the reality is that attention spans certainly aren’t getting any better. The multisensory nature of the internet, social media, and other digital technologies is rewiring the human brain and making it harder for people to stay focused on singular tasks and objectives – both online and offline.
This is something New York Times reporter Timothy Egan has noticed firsthand, saying, “A New York friend used to send me clever, well-thought-out emails, gems of sprightly prose. Then he switched to texting, which abbreviated his wit and style. Now all verbs and nouns have vanished; he sends emojis, the worst thing to happen to communication in our time.”
Sound familiar? You probably have examples like this in your own life. More specifically, you may have noticed how your dwindling attention span and lack of focus has impacted your ability to read and consume written content.
According to a study by Chartbeat, most website visitors only read half of a web page’s content before bouncing. And by “read,” the study suggests that these visitors are bouncing around on the page, picking out a sentence here and there. To use a popular term, the average internet user is a “skimmer.”
If you’ve noticed this in your own life, then you should assume the same is true of your audience. In fact, you can find out pretty quickly how people are interacting with your content by taking a deep dive into on-page analytics. What you’ll likely discover is that 50 percent or more of your content isn’t being consumed at all. (If it is, it’s being skimmed over with just a few words being picked out here and there.)
Obviously, this is problematic. As a content marketer who uses content to attract, engage, and convert prospective customers, deteriorating attention spans represent a direct threat to your conversion process.
While it would be nice to plant a flag in the ground, promising to take a stand against the demise of concentration by producing such compelling content that readers have no choice but to read your articles from the first word to the last sentence, this simply isn’t realistic. There are too many forces working against you. The average human brain is so overexposed that you’re essentially swimming upstream with Niagara Falls in your face.
You’ll encounter people who will read your articles all the way through – but they fall somewhere on the spectrum between “uncommon” and “unicorn.” Your goal, moving forward, should be to engage the majority of people who aren’t already consuming your content all the way through and convince them to actually finish your content.
5 ways to get readers to finish your articles
Getting readers to finish reading your content – especially when it’s thousands of words in length – is difficult, but it’s not an insurmountable challenge.
1. Write a compelling introduction
Most visitors will give the introductory paragraph a try – and many will read it all the way through. This is your one chance to seize attention and compel people to continue reading the rest of the article. If the introduction is magnetizing and enthralling, people will be more likely to read the next paragraph, and the one after that. If it’s dry and clinical, good luck getting people to do anything other than skim.
2. Use multiple content formats
The key to standing out amidst the noise of the internet is to produce content that contains a variety of formats, as opposed to a singular medium. In other words, you should aim to incorporate text and visuals. This page is a good example. Notice how it uses subheadings, menus, images, CTA buttons, charts, videos, and graphics to keep users stimulated from start to finish.
3. Enhance navigation
How is your on-page navigation? Do you have a bunch of paragraphs strung together like a black and white newspaper article, or does your design feature subheadings, bolded words, hyperlinked text, and vertically oriented graphics that naturally nudge readers down the page?
4. Use the inverted pyramid approach
Are you familiar with the inverted pyramid approach to writing? This is the traditional journalistic format where content gets structured in a way that the most important facts/points go at the top of the article, while the less important, secondary details follow. While you definitely don’t want your content to be boring and journalistic, using this approach will help you encourage people to read further along.
5. String readers along
Sometimes readers need you to hold their hand and walk them through your content. You can do this by stringing them along, so to speak. This may look like asking questions, referencing a topic that will be covered deeper in the article, or setting your readers up for a big reveal at the end of a piece.
Be strategic with your content
Gone are the days where you could sit down, type out a blog post, hit publish, and wait for people to click, read, and comment. If you want to maximize engagement in today’s world of dwindling attention spans, you have to be strategic with the content creation process. This means crafting content in a manner that keeps readers engaged and prompts them to stick around until the end.
Are you willing to make this a priority in 2018?
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