In the beginning there were books. You may have heard of them, they’re made up of ink and paper, come in different sizes and vary in depth. Some you can finish in a day or so, others take weeks (depending on your attention span). The interesting thing is that you read from point A all the way through to point Z. “What a linear and boring way of reading”, the modern tech-savvy netizen of today might say, bored out of his mind from the sheer thought of having to concentrate on one thing for more than a couple of seconds.
We read differently today than how we did before the Internet came into our book-reading lives. The fact is that people tend to go online in order to avoid traditional reading, word-for-word. How many websites did you visit before you got to this blog? One? Two? A hundred? Some Internet users visit thousands of websites each month – that sums up to crazy amounts of information consumed, which potentially results in a shorter attention span and a lack of patience. Though not breaking news, it’s one of those things that marketers will always have to struggle with.
You may have heard of the F-shape. This is supposedly how we read online; you could think of this as “F for fast”. First there is a horizontal scan followed by a second horizontal scan, and then a vertical scan to the left of the screen. Translated into actual online practice, the F-shape could equal “heading-top menu-index” or if the page shows an article; “first paragraph – second paragraph – quick overview”. This is of course a basic rule of thumb, as everyone is different.
High school students and professors alike, they all tend to skim read the information rather than take a ‘deep dive’. Does this mean that netizens of today are lazy? Not necessarily, but they are free to do what they want – that’s the magic of the Internet. Freedom allows people to choose what information they want, as a matter of fact it’s essential. There is so much information and yet so little time and patience. So how can your content catch the attention of all those free souls out there? Be clear, direct and provide as much information in as few words as possible.
- Use bullet-points as they provide key information, giving the reader a quick overview;
- Present key information up front with a summary. If you’ve ever had to read or write an academic essay, then you know that an abstract is your best friend. Readers are looking for that key piece of information – help them find it;
- Use informative words, and use them early on. The first two words in every title, heading or paragraph are the most important (plus this is better for SEO);
- Be smart, but not too smart. Writing riddles will have readers abandon your website in an instant;
It goes without saying that your website needs to follow suit, otherwise the best writing and all of the world’s knowledge won’t help you. Reduce the page size to help it load faster, use logical menu tabs and headings, or simply don’t write anything at all – using video is a great example of how you can provide lots of information in a visual format.
Always take two important F-words into consideration; Fast and Freedom. Make it easy for online readers; remember that they are free to leave you at any time.
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Image courtesy: heartharmony.com.au, bdb.co.uk