What does this mean for content marketing? If you don’t grab your reader’s attention within the first eight seconds, you won’t be grabbing it at all. They'll get distracted by another link or another tab, leaving your content unread - no matter how good it may be.
The good news is that eight seconds is not people’s maximum attention span; otherwise, films that were two hours long would stand little chance of being watched. People regularly spends hours engrossed in television shows or playing games. The difference is that this kind of content captures and retains a person’s attention.
Your content needs to do that as well, to stand a chance against the social media or streaming service that might be open in your visitor’s next tab. Remember that your content isn’t the only thing that a reader could be looking at. People can only pay attention to so many things at once.
As a result, keep your reader in mind at every stage of the content creation process. Give them a reason to want to read on and make it easy for them to do so.
Solve a problem
Let’s face it: for most people, the latest hit series on TV is probably going to be more exciting than written online content. Unless your content can have explosions, romance, and nail-biting tension, you probably can’t compete for sheer entertainment.
That doesn’t mean people will always prefer the entertaining option, however. The trick is to capitalise on the one advantage your content does have. TV may be enjoyable, but it probably isn’t going to provide any useful information to the viewer.
Your content can and should be useful. The best way to attract and retain attention is to the make sure that your content is helpful to the reader. If your content solves a reader’s problem, then it is almost guaranteed that they’ll pay attention to it. This starts at the conceptualisation and planning stage. When brainstorming potential topics, focus on what is going to be relevant to your reader. What problems do they have? What might they not know? Consider what questions have been answered elsewhere, and what is still waiting to be answered.
Start with the headline
Great content starts with a great headline. Getting the headline right is the most important factor in whether your content manages to grab attention; a poor headline can break the chances of an otherwise interesting piece by dissuading people from clicking through to read it.
A good headline should be unique, specific, and important. First, to make your content stand out, your headline should be different from everyone else’s. There’s no point writing the 100th article on a topic using the same headline as all the other websites - make it distinct.
Second, your headline should accurately convey to the reader what the article is going to be about. Don’t be vague - tell the reader what to expect. There’s nothing more annoying to a reader than a headline which promises one thing and an article which delivers another.
Finally, let the reader know why they should care enough about the topic to read about it. If you’ve chosen a topic well, then it will be something useful to the reader - the headline is your chance to get this across.
Hook the reader in the opening
Once your reader has clicked on the headline, the opening paragraph is the next thing they’ll read. Together, the headline and the opener should act like a one-two punch, leaving the reader absorbed and ready for the rest of the article.
There’s more flexibility with the opening than the headline, but the same basic rules apply. The first paragraph isn’t the place to be putting dense information. Instead, choose something short and snappy that will get the reader’s attention. A real-life example that demonstrates the problem or concept in action and relates it to the reader’s situation is often good. After that, introduce the rest of the article. The goal of the opener is to engage the reader and let them know what to expect.
Have a clear structure
How you structure the remainder of the article makes a big difference on how much attention is likely to be paid to it. An uninterrupted mass of text, with very few visual breaks for the reader, is likely to discourage further reading. On the other hand, a well-designed structure with logic breaks makes reading the content easy.
Don’t underestimate the power of subheadings, as well. A reader should be able to skim through only the subheadings and come away with a good understanding of what your content is about. The better your subheadings, the more information you can relay. When readers do read beyond, having clear subheadings will let them mentally organise the information, promoting retention in memory.
Pay attention to your paragraphs
Each paragraph should also be clearly structured. Again, many readers aren’t going to closely read every word on the page. They’ll skim across the top of paragraphs and only read the ones that interest them. Your job, therefore, is to make sure that each paragraph looks interesting.
The best way to do this is to focus on the first sentence. The first sentence of each paragraph should be a condensed version of the topic of the paragraph - this also obviously means that each paragraph should only be about one topic. By introducing the paragraphs this way you’ll effectively signal to the reader the content so that even if they skim through they’ll still have an understanding.
Use images and video
If a reader is met with an endless wall of text when they open your page the chances are they won’t stick around long. Text is great at conveying information, but it also requires effort on your visitor’s part to read. Help them out by breaking up the text with other forms of media.
Images can be an easy and effective way to break up text. They also help make your articles look visually distinct and can work to reinforce the content of your piece.
For certain brands, videos can also be effective. Video content is an increasingly important part of the content marketing landscape, with many marketing studies showing customers want to see it more than other kinds of content. Incorporating a video into a page can serve as a great way to grab attention, which can then be directed to the accompanying text.
Optimise your website
To get a reader’s attention, you don’t just need good content - you need a good website, too. Most internet users expect pages to load in under three seconds, and when times start creeping above this people start leaving. People can only get hooked by a great headline or opening sentence if they see it, so optimising your load times will increase the effectiveness of your content.
Decreasing load times isn’t always easy, but Google have recently released a new set of tools called Web Vitals that should help you pinpoint where your site needs to improve to give visitors a better experience.