Imagine you pick up a book – it’s a single piece of content that you’re very likely to read from beginning to end. A newspaper – there’s more variety, but you’ll probably read three or four articles in full. What happens though when you get to the internet and are swamped by choice?
With the sheer volume of content available online, it stands to reason that people’s reading habits are different in the digital world compared to the real world. There’s far more sifting and jumping from one page to the next – so in order for content to be successful, it’s just as important that marketers understand the mechanics behind optimising their websites, as well as the information visitors are interested in reading.
To help you on your way, here are 6 tips and tricks to keep your audience engaged social media writing:
Skimming and scanning
The first thing to note is that you can’t hold someone’s attention for long. According to recent research by Microsoft, the age of smartphones has left humans with an attention span of only 8 seconds – shorter than that of a goldfish!
In turn, that means when people read content on the web, they have a tendency to skim and scan to find the information they’re looking for. And if that information isn’t immediately apparent, they will get bored and move on. So make sure key messages stand out in some way – whether that’s with sub-headings, bullet points or bold font.
Above the fold
With that in mind, think also about the information you’re putting above the fold of your page – most people scanning a page won’t scroll to find what they’re looking for. That’s not to say you should continue below the fold – research shows that when a user spends time looking beyond the initial cut-off, the probability of engagement increases significantly – but you need to get them to that point first.
As eye-tracking technology has become more sophisticated, we’ve learnt that the F-pattern is extremely prevalent in online reading behaviour. By that, I mean people begin reading horizontally across the top of the page, then drop their gaze and quickly glance horizontally again. By the time they reach the bottom, it’s almost like people are reading in a column on the left – creating an F shape.
This means that people spend almost 70 per cent of their time looking at information on the left-hand side of a web page, so it’s worth keeping this in mind when considering your layout.
All about the intro
By now, you’ve probably gathered – the vast majority of people will not read your content word for word. In fact, a study by the Nielsen Norman Group found that only 16 percent of readers stick with you until the bitter end.
On the average web page, even engaged readers will only read 28 per cent of the words displayed at most – 20 per cent is a more realistic figure. With that in mind, make sure your introduction answers all the immediate questions – why should I read this? What will I gain?
We all know the feeling of dread that comes when you’re presented with an impenetrable block of prose – it’s intimidating and makes the reader want to give up before they’ve begun.
So remember, in some instances, no content – or more accurately, space between content – can be more impactful than words. Don’t hesitate to space out paragraphs into smaller, easier-to-digest chunks!
Less is more
In a similar vein, the less chaotic a page looks, the better a response you will have. Yes, images and videos are a great way to break up text, but don’t go overboard. Variations in your font size or boldness will help to highlight key points, but be careful to remain consistent throughout to maintain the impact. Establish a signature layout for all your content and stick to it to ensure readers can easily follow you and engage.
The science behind content optimisation won’t be enough to your audience engaged – at the end of the day, content is either good or bad – but if you take the time to understand the behaviour of online readers, you may well find that you boost your engagement levels and take your content to the next level.
And if you’ve reached this point, congratulations! You’re in the 16 per cent!