How Readers Really Feel About Your Content

September 6, 2017

When I was a kid, my dad would sit in his favorite faded orange recliner on Sundays, thumbing through the Sunday paper. First, he scanned the headlines. What was the President doing? Were there any major national disasters? Local tax hikes? He would put the entertainment section aside for my mom, then beeline for the sports section. And the comics.

The way content is delivered has changed drastically since 1990. Today, my 60-something father gets the news via his tablet. Headlines are piped straight to his smartphone and political cartoons pop up alongside denture cream ads. It’s a different world.

As 21st century digital marketers, we need to be able to understand who reads online content, how and why. By comprehending the consumer – in this case, people reading the websites, marketing materials and blogs Commit creates – we can better help our clients attract and retain readers.

Speaking of which, are you still reading this blog? If you got this far, you’re ahead of the curve. The New York Times made a splash (pun intended) when a 2016 op-ed piece declared that Americans now have an attention span of about 8 seconds. That’s on par with Dory in Disney’s Finding Nemo. Sad, right?

Author Timothy Egan’s findings were based on a survey of Canadian media by Microsoft. While we’re not buying their dubious research, there’s likely a grain of truth to it. Here’s what we’ve discovered in the decades that Commit has been providing digital content for consumption.

Who? Everyone. According to Pew Research Center, only 13 percent of the American population doesn’t go online. These Luddites are watching TV news and reading paper books – gasp! – while the rest of us hastily scroll Facebook and email for our daily dose of content.  Surprisingly, another study revealed that Baby Boomers spend more time online than Gen Xers or Millennials.

Of course, not everyone will read your blog or website content. That’s why marketers tailor their content to specific demographics; for example, a recipe blog might target 30-something moms, while a luxury Florida resort aims to attract vacationing families and older couples.

What? As attention spans get shorter and the amount of information on the web increases, consumers are becoming more discerning about what they read – or view. Among various content options, videos and social media posts are the most fully consumed. More than half of respondents to a recent HubSpot survey said they’ll thoroughly watch a video or read a post/tweet/comment on social media.

In contrast, when’s the last time you read a website thoroughly or listened to a podcast from beginning to end? Consumers are also tuning out brand-speak. If you mentioned your company 20 times in your last email or penned a bland blog about your “amazing” product without offering any real information to the reader, WE’RE TALKING TO YOU.

For How Long? Still reading this blog? You are amazing! Now, here’s where that “goldfish attention span” comes into play. Now, here’s where that “goldfish attention span” comes into play. (See what we did there?)

Back in 2014, Chartbeat studied 2 million web visits to see how long the average person looked at a unique page of content. Their findings? A whopping 15 seconds. Yep, that’s shorter than a goldfish’s memory recall, if you believe Mythbusters’ Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman.

The Bottom Line: Content marketing isn’t about designing material you want consumers to read. It’s about creating the content consumers want, how and when they want it. Consider:

  • Making your content more useful to the reader. What can they learn?
  • Adding video content
  • Offering something in return, such as a contest entry at the end of an article
  • Connecting longer content to social media
  • Content relevance – is the subject trending, or newsworthy, right now?

By putting yourself in the consumer’s shoes, you are more likely to design content that appeals to the readers you are targeting. So, ditch the dusty podcasts, forget about plugging your company’s name in every post, and give your reader what they want. Relevance. Speed. And ultimately, something worth more than 15 seconds of their time.