6 Tips for Writing Winning Content for Short Attention Span Readers

November 5, 2016


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Your brains have been rewired. You, my dear readers, won’t read this web article in its entirety. 38% of you have already bounced, having given up on this page after spending no time engaging with the material.

And after the first few hundred words, only half of you will remain. For proud writers of web content, these numbers raise hairs.

Public WiFi, 3G, hotspots, internet cafes. Today, people are always online. On the bright side, this means an audience is accessible all day and all night, and as technology advances and spreads, that audience will only grow. But the detrimental effects of our always-on internet use are apparent. According to a Pew Research Center survey of technology experts, while people do benefit from access to a mountain of information and varied sources, they have shorter attention spans and lack a hunger for deep critical analysis because of our being hyperconnected.

No one is above it. Did you absorb that last paragraph without distraction? You might not have if your phone buzzed with a flood of texts from your family group chat, another email notification pinged into view on screen, or the TV flashed with pressing news on November’s election. In our always-on world, these kinds of interference that leave us in a cognitive jumble are all too common.

As content creators, our modus operandi is creating attention-grabbing blockbuster content. But, in this brave new distracted world, how does one best achieve that? Below are 6 tips for writing winning content for short attention span readers:

Know Your Audience

Without a handle on who you’re writing for, how can you write towards that audience’s needs? The first step to creating absorbing content is knowing who will be absorbing it. Social media data mining is invaluable here as it gives you access to your targeted audience’s typical content diet and an up-to-date read on the new and dying trends. Once you’ve figured out the avenues through which your audience consumes info most readily, you can create the personas from which your content will be delivered. Who does your audience respond to most emphatically? Experts? Other buyers? Write through the lens of whatever voice your audience resonates with the most. For instance, in a post geared towards consumers of an iPhone app, the most effective persona for your audience may be writing from the perspective of a fellow potential user of that app. With an audience-oriented ethos in mind, your content will have an immediately engaging and winning rhetorical flair.

Trust in the Inverted Pyramid of Info

In their efforts to find what they need as quickly as possible, readers will barely glance at your article. So, right away, bang a gong with “this is what’s here” and “this is why it matters” messaging in your title and intro. Move to supporting details and information. Conclude with the specific. Overall, this means placing key general info at the top and slowly whittling down to the most particular, a la an inverted pyramid. This way those readers who will find any excuse to brush you off are immediately aware of what your article has to give, and, if it’s what they need, they’ll be more likely to follow you down the rabbit hole.

Work the F-Shape

Discovered with the use of eye tracking technology, the “F-Shape” is a web content viewing pattern in which web users start at the top, reading left to right, move down, and read left to right again. Sounds like the natural act of reading, right? However, for web content, with each movement down the horizontal sweep dwindles until it’s a scan of the first words in each line. This creates a pattern roughly in the shape of an F. For writers attempting to reel people in, leveraging that F means front loading articles with juicier, powerful content at the top and on your leftmost margin.

Make Text Scannable

No one is expected to read the entire internet word-for-word each day. To pick up what we need, we scan. Accommodate your speed-freak readers by making your writing easily scannable. Here’s the golden rule: chunk your content into digestible bits. This means breaking up your paragraphs under boldfaced or numerically-listed headers and subheaders, making it easier for a quick scan of the entire article, or for a reader to zero in on an area of interest. If snippets of value fall too deep in your chunks, boldface or italicize them as well.

Utilize Links

It’s impossible to stay concise and cogent when explaining every minuscule detail of your logic or narrative. Links can alleviate the need to substantiate your writing and so cut down on any dense reportage, which, unless your audience is made up of experts on your subject of choice, is unlikely to garner a warm reception. One part of winning readers’ attentions is building trust. You can do so by establishing credibility with search engines who will take a shine to your high-quality backlinks as well, placing your content higher on search result pages and thus giving it greater authority. Don’t forget your anchor texts either. Not only are they pertinent to SEO, but they are scan-friendly, too.

Stick to Popular Formats

As the adage goes: you can’t teach your reader new tricks. For the attention-poor, learning how to navigate an article that uses an unfamiliar structure would take effort and time they don’t have. This is part of the reason web content clings to certain go-to article formats: Listicles, Tips and Tricks, Q and A’s, How-To’s, etc. According to research from Medium, no matter your chosen format, readers’ attention spans are built for 980-word articles, or reads that last about 7 minutes.

When applied well and creatively, these golden rules will help you to maximize your audience by seizing and retaining potential readers’ attentions. Know of any other tips for writing captivating content? Share your thoughts below.

lisa-froelingsLisa Froelings is a productivity consultant with over 4 years of experience in human resources working for a major retailer in the US before she decided to build her own small business. Her interests include technology, mindfulness as well as time management. You may connect with her on Twitter.


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