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Attention Spans: How to Deliver Content to Your Audience

Content creators are constantly battling for one thing: a consumer’s attention.

Our attention spans have been chipped away with each incremental advance in media — websites, email, community forums, social networks and more. In fact, our reading attention spans have dropped from 12 minutes to 5 minutes, according to Social Times. Everyone is busy these days which makes it harder for people to find the time to consume media. This is why “listicles” are becoming more popular — because they’re easy for readers to skim and consume. But not every audience wants to read a listicle. It’s all about finding what works best for your readers and discovering what your audience wants. As Andy Smith, the author of The Dragonfly Effect, told us previously in an interview:  “Every audience has different goals or different definitions. It’s dangerous to try to apply the rules of one audience against another.”

How can you deliver your content in the most consumable way possible to accommodate your reader’s attention spans? Let’s find out.

Catering to Different Attention Spans

There are some common formats that can help you deliver your information in a consumer-friendly way. Your choice of these formats should be determined by your audience, your content and your objectives.

Listicles
Listicles are so popular they’re nearly ubiquitous for written content. These brief written articles display information and photos in numerical lists that are easy to digest and fun to read.

Right for you? Choose this format for written content that needs to appeal for an audience with a short attention span. Listicles are more versatile than they appear at first glance, and are a good choice for breaking down complex subjects, funny topics and showing off gorgeous photos.

Videos
Mobile users spend approximately 21 percent of their time watching videos — half that for desktop users. Despite previous predictions that video length would increase alongside popularity, the average length of videos have dropped from seven minutes in 2012 to five minutes in 2013. Many recommend a marketing video to stick between 60 and 90 seconds.

Right for you? Videos require way more time and money to produce than written content, but are often more engaging. If you have the time, experience and a decent idea for a good video, it will go a long way to engage an increasingly impatient audience.

Blog Posts
Blog posts can be infinitely long, so what’s the ideal length to cope with short spans? There’s no good answer. The length should be determined by what you’re trying to convey. Keep your posts compelling and edit them to be as concise as possible.

Right for you? Pursue blog posts if you want to build an audience, increase web traffic and SEO and create an authoritative voice for your brand. There’s a low barrier to entry and a lot to gain, so long as you do them right (see also: Start Guest Blogging the Right Way).

Q&A Interviews
Just like personal narratives, which can create a “voice” for your brand, interviews with notable people in your field can boost readership and your credibility. However, this format can be taxing for short attention spans, so be sure to keep them brief and make sure it’s content your audience wants to consume.

Right for you? Do you have connections in your industry? Can you get interviews with fascinating and influential people in the field? If so, they’re well worth a shot.

How to Measure Your Readers’ Attention Spans

The brain can process information at about 60 bits of information per second in for task, according to research conducted by Fermín Moscoso del Prado Martín at the University of California, Santa Barbara. That’s a tiny fraction of modern computer processing speed.

When this 60 bits is divided between two or more tasks — like reading while listening to music or periodically checking your email — this processing capability is greatly reduced. That means you can’t even count on your audience having the small fraction of modern computing speed they begin with, but a fraction of that fraction, which means it’s crucial to get your message out without wasting time. Anything less and the brain forgets in nanoseconds (see also: How to Create the Most Exciting Headlines).

A great way to identify your audience’s behavior is by looking at various web metrics. Check for time spent on each page and bounce rate. Are your readers spending 30 seconds on an article or 3 minutes?

Additionally exit rate is an important metric to look at, too. If readers are looking at one article and leaving right away that means they’re not interested in what else you’re offering on your website. Take a look at these various metrics and see how they change for different article formats to determine which one is best for your readers’ appetite.

Remember: these are guidelines, not laws. The most important thing to do is fill your content with great, unique ideas and perspectives and get rid of everything you don’t need.

What do you think? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below. 

To Read More About Content Marketing, See Below:

15 Ways to Make Your Content Look Better
Pyramid of Written Content: How to Present Your Story Ideas
A Guide to Downloadable Content

Photo Credit: frankpierson via Flickr.

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