A common line seen in many marketing forums is "you have 6 seconds to grab your reader's attention before he clicks away to another site." Although there are no concrete studies to back this up, it is regarded as fact in the industry. The truth is, you have to keep grabbing that attention every 6 seconds. It doesn't matter how good your hook is, if you fail to engage your reader after that, he'll never make it to the bottom of the page.
What's the Point of Every Line?
The point of the first line in any writing should be to get the reader to read the next line. Any time this doesn't happen you risk losing the reader. It's no shock that in the digital age attention spans have decreased dramatically. We hear about ADHD in our children daily. This isn't a disease, it's an adaptation to the vast amount of information available to them. Television advertisers saw this coming years ago. Traditional advertising spots have evolved from minute long diatribes to 10 or 15 second keyword phrases and jingles. As writers, we need to do the same thing: spike it every line.
Take Your Reader Into Account
If you look at a novel written in the 19th century and then pick up a piece by Ernest Hemingway, the difference is clear. The evolution in writing is constant, and even as Hemingway wrote shorter sentences back in the 1950s, we are using even shorter bits today. Still, writing needs to make a strong and persistent emotional connection with a reader. Without the connection the words will fail to resonate and probably won't have any residual effect. This is true whether you are doing freelance writing, content strategy, content marketing, blogs, tweets, press releases or any other writing.
So How do We do It?
How can we keep a reader emotionally involved without drawn out exposition? Bait your hook with a question and then tease at the answer at every turn. Think of it like writing a succession of cliff hangers. Give the reader a unique or surprising fact and follow it up with a question that leads to another fact. Repeat.
Readers Don't Read What You Write They Read How You Write
It's hard to keep a reader interested. In a study done by Dr. Jakob Nielsen,he showed that, "[most] people only read 28% of the text on a web page and decreased the more text there is on the page." They skim and look for bolded and italicized words. They also read in an F shaped pattern. They have been trained to look for headlines and bullets. Put your most compelling arguments in the headings. And, above all, don't give them everything they want at the end of the page. Scatter answers throughout the text and recap with a minimized bullet list at the bottom.
Take Away Points
* You have 6 seconds to get a reader's attention
* You can lose a reader with one dull line
* Readers have ADHD
* Bait and hook repeatedly
* Format trumps content
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