Getting attention is hard
No one reads the web in the same way they read a magazine or newspaper.
With the sheer volume of content, internet users have developed methods to quickly assess content to determine whether or not they should invest their time in each article they come across.
Even if your article appears engaging enough to read, holding the visitor’s attention is the greatest hurdle. The goal here is twofold - providing the visitor with the information they need to understand whether further investment in your content is worthwhile, and providing enough interest to incite them to share your article among their peers.
Captions are the most read content on a web page
So how do we do it?
The most important objective is to ensure the gist of the article can be gathered from a quick skim. This can be achieved using the following techniques:
- Invert the pyramid. Begin the article with the conclusion, then provide supporting arguments and data. If the conclusion is compelling or controversial enough to hook the reader in, then you are more likely to keep the reader’s attention long enough to state your case
- Keep line lengths short, and line heights long - approximately 80 characters per line, and consider a line height of 1.5 to provide plenty of space for the eye to track each line
- Keep paragraphs short - far shorter than you would consider in a paper article. Each idea should be separate and easily digestible, in a concise and simple writing style
- Make sure any key messages are in bold. This enables skimming to determine value of the content
- Use headings and sub headings liberally. These also provide skimming landing points, and should be ideally written before any other content
- Use images and captions. Images can quickly grab attention, whilst image captions are the most read content on web pages- so it’s vital you get your message across to the reader in image captions
- Ensure any elements around the periphery of the article do not distract from the article itself; no garish icons, no flashing banners
- Use numbered lists and bullet points. This allows you to be succinct and provides easy to find and consume bites of information
Writing style is just as important - try to use a friendly conversational tone. Use an active, rather than a passive voice and steer clear of cliché and hyperbole.
Try to consider any other web pages and online documents to which readers can be referred to gain additional information. However, avoid links to irrelevant news, articles and references as they create diversions that side-track users from points you want to make
Once you have your hooks in, and have gathered your visitor’s attention, then what?
Any content you add to your site should serve a purpose. Either it is there to expand your reach, or it is there to demonstrate you can solve a problem your audience has.
If the former, then make sure sharing icons are easy to find - this means doing the same way as everyone else.
Try not to be clever with it - put your icons where they are expected, and ensure they work. This means checking that the article adds well to social media sites. Sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook will automatically generate an excerpt from the beginning of your article, as well as include an image. Make sure this works as you intend.
For the latter, every piece of content that is a representation of an opportunity should be accompanied by a call to action. Again the CTA should be easy to use - if it is a contact form, use the minimum amount of fields you need to follow up. If it is to make a phone call, ensure that your phone number is accessible, and clickable for devices that can make calls directly.
Finally, make sure your site renders well on small form factor devices. The vast majority of content is now consumed on smartphones, and therefore thinking "mobile first" will ensure you are on target with potential readers.