Claire Wilson
Claire Wilson 1 December 2017

Content marketers: follow these 12 tips to win over impatient readers

Of course we all enjoy an engaging story yet, online, many of us only read the headlines – eight out of ten of us don’t even get past the first sentence. And then, even if we do, half of us won’t read to the end of the content.

In 2000, the average attention span was 12 seconds. Now, over a decade later, Microsoft has concluded that the average attention span is around eight seconds – less than that of a goldfish.

What’s to blame for our lack of concentration skills? Technology, boredom or, simply, impatience?

Well done if you’ve made it this far! Stick with us for a bit longer…

Why don’t we finish reading?

Because of the fast and easy access we have to everything online, we take having it all right here, right now, for granted. And if we can’t have it immediately, why should we bother?

The sheer volume of what’s available to us online also plays a role; having access to millions of articles, guides and blogs online has created generations of impatient readers, who are guilty of switching from one piece of content to the next.

With our increasingly busy lives, who’s got the time to read a whole thing? But, for content marketers, this attitude is a significant challenge we need our audiences to overcome.

Are images and captions crucial short cuts or detrimental to reading habits?

Engaging with your readers visually is often considered as a way to grab, and hold, attention; sometimes the image alone is what draws us in, rather than the headline. Video content is also ever present, in particular on social media. If your audience wants visual stimulation to help them read content, then each image’s relevance is certainly crucial.

Recently, there has been an ongoing discussion surrounding how images can fuel fake news. With a misleading caption or image, the mind can create a range of non-truths from what the eyes are physically seeing.

‘Show don’t tell’ is writing gospel, and images do just that. However, sometimes, a brand’s efforts to portray a message can be warped. For example, Dove’s recent advert depicting a black woman removing a t-shirt to reveal a white woman underneath has received criticism and backlash for its racist imagery. With or without a caption, this advert simply misses the mark.

The 12 step checklist

If you’re looking for a solution to engage impatient readers, try these writing tips:

1) The headline should not just grab attention, but also accurately depict what readers can expect from the content

2) Keep your introductions short and engaging

3) Identify your unique tone of voice

4) Try telling a story

5) Break up your text – incorporate subheadings, one-line paragraphs and short sentences

6) You don’t always have to offer answers – sometimes the most interesting reads open more questions

7) Include stats and quotations

8) Ask questions to engage readers

9) Embed hyperlinks, but don’t overload your article

10) Source relevant images (and consider your use of captions…)

11) Be social media and mobile friendly – readers often share content rather than scroll, so think how it will be presented across multiple platforms to entice new readers

12) Get your call to action sussed and make it clear

So, how do we keep our audiences reading?

This is a tough question. Perhaps the answer is not just in the construction of the content but also in the reader’s mindset. It’s vital, therefore, to do your research, understand your audience and make sure your content connects to their interests, needs or values.

It also goes without saying that you need an interesting or newsworthy topic. A snappy headline might get the initial clicks, but your readers will fail to engage if the information takes too much effort to digest.

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