5 Tips for Creating Successful Content in a World of Short Attention Spans
Today, the human attention span is just under eight seconds. That’s a full second shorter than a goldfish’s.
While we’d all love to believe our customers hang breathlessly on every word we write, this just isn’t true. We live in a world of skimmers, and creating successful content is more difficult today than ever before.
Fortunately, you can adjust your content so it succeeds in a world of tech-addled attention spans. You just have to know how to do it.
The Rise of the Falling Attention Span
Blame it on Tinder, rapid-fire Facebook feeds, or the fact that content is getting shorter and shorter. However you choose to look at it, it’s no secret that most people aren’t settling in with Moby Dick anymore.
In recent years, the world has gotten faster and the digital climate more instant. Today, live-streams are where many consumers get their news, and writers like Seth Godin are making their living publishing 300-word “microblogs.”
While experts blame this shift on technology, there’s not much to be done about it. We live in an intensely technological world. As such, the only path through is for marketers and business owners to adapt to the current realities, as they are.
Creating Successful Content For Short Attention Spans: 5 Tips
Whether you’ve created content for years or you’re just getting started, these five expert tips will make it easier to push out skimmable, valuable content for modern readers:
1.Write Attention-Grabbing Headlines
Today, 80% of people read headline copy, but only 20% read the body copy. As such, it’s critical to grab readers with your headline. Here are the traits of a great headline:
- It’s Relevant. A good headline is a title and a value proposition all in one. Your headline should tell readers immediately what they can expect from your blog and how it will help them.
- It’s Short. Headlines longer than 60 characters risk being truncated by Google in the search engine results pages. They also aren’t as impactful as more concise headlines. For best results, keep your headline between 40-50 characters.
- It Includes Numbers. Numbers immediately brand your headline as skimmable and valuable. When faced with a choice between “Ways to Clean Your Home,” and “10 Ways to Clean Your Home in 5 Minutes (or Less),” which would you click?
- It’s Been Tested. One thing most marketers forget to do is test their headlines. According to Moz, blog traffic can vary by up to 500% based on the headline alone. With this in mind, create a batch of working headlines and test them with your readers, employees, or friends before you publish anything.
If you’re still not sure your headlines are cutting it, make them stronger with the headline tools available on the web. One of my favorites is HubSpot’s blog topic generator, which allows you to input three nouns and come up with a handful of topics and titles. The screenshot below came from the input “content,” “local,” and “businesses.”
Another tool I use often is CoSchedule’s headline analyzer, which analyzes headlines based on their concentration of common, uncommon, emotional, and power words.
Recently, CoSchedule has begun to require that users input some personal information before using the app. This information includes email address, name, and company name. While this is annoying for many marketers, the tool is a great one, and it’s worth the momentary inconvenience to use it.
2. Use Images Throughout Your Content
People love pictures. It’s one of the most elemental and basic things about us. It dates back to cave pictographs and children’s books and extends into modern marketing. As such, including images is of the best things you can do to tailor your content to today’s shorter attention spans.
If you’re a little afraid of using images in your content, don’t be. You don’t have to be a professional photographer. In fact, including images in your content is as simple as grabbing a few in-depth screenshots (like you see throughout this post), or adding some free stock photos.
My favorite free stock photo site is Pexels. While their selection is somewhat limited, they’re a good stepping stone for brands that have yet to move up to paid subscription sites, like Shutterstock.
No matter how you choose to incorporate visuals, remember that people process visual information 60,000 times faster than textual information, so including images is essential. One place you absolutely can’t afford to sacrifice a visual is in the header, or “Featured Image” section. Posts with featured images earn more clicks and shares on social media, so be sure you’re not letting this fall by the wayside.
3. Provide Value and be Interesting
If this sounds easier said than done, it might be because you don’t know your audience very well. In today’s world of shrinking attention spans and content overwhelm, any brand that doesn’t tailor its content to its audiences fails.
Today, knowing your audience is critical. In addition to being the only way to create content that’s relevant and useful for them, it’s also essential for informing a content approach that focuses more on quality than it does quantity.
If you’re a little foggy on who the audience for your content is (as is common with small businesses just getting started in digital or online marketing), one thing I recommend is to spend a week paying careful attention to which content catches your eye.
Is there a particular site you’re drawn to? Which headlines on the search engine results page would you click? What do you like about the material that catches your attention? I, for one, always take lots of inspiration from sites like ShoutMeLoud and Search Engine Journal.
Use a tool like Evernote to capture all these pieces of content in one place and reflect back on them later. If you, like so many small business owners, built your company to scratch your own itch first, this information will come in handy when it comes time to craft and target your content.
4. Make it Skimmable
Confront your readers with an impermeable wall of text, and they’ll bounce faster than a cat in a bathtub.
Today, a large part of building a successful online presence is learning to format your content correctly. Here are some guidelines:
- Use H1, H2, and H3 Tags. In addition to being critical for SEO, header tags also help readers navigate your content rationally. Your title should always be an H1, while your subheaders are H2s. Anything that comes below a header, like a bulleted or numbered list, should be H3. If you’re working in WordPress, you can find the header tags under the “paragraph” drop-down menu.
- Break Content into Short Sections. Anything longer than about 250-300 words needs to be broken up with a subheader. Keep your subheaders relevant, informative, and enticing to keep pulling readers through your material.
- Use Hyperlinks. Hyperlinks give readers additional information and boost your SEO juice all at once. While some marketers don’t include them because they think they’ll drive readers off the page, a piece of content with no outbound links is just a shell of a thing.
- Write Short Paragraphs. The longest section on your page should be no more than four sentences.
5. Trim the Fat
The most critical part of writing content for short attention spans is trimming the fat wherever possible. Once you’ve written a piece, go back and edit out unneeded words and phrases.
Pieces like “in order to,” “with that being said,” and “because of the fact that…” can be nixed immediately, as they just clog up writing and make it more difficult for readers to get through your pages. Replace them with simpler alternatives, or use an app like Hemingway to help you, and you’ll be well on your way to more concise writing.
While it’s true that attention spans are waning, it’s also true that marketers can take proactive steps to ensure that their content remains interesting and appealing. From trimming out “fluff” to including visuals and screesnhots, there are dozens of ways to create better, more engaging content that appeals to and engages the modern reader.