The Essential Guide to Blogging

Writing for the 15-second Attention Span



TL;DR

  1. Accept It (and Embrace It) – People don’t read like they used to, but that’s OK

  2. Front Load – Put the important stuff first

  3. “F” the Layout – Make your content look like the letter “F”

  4. Say More with Less – Find the core of your message and obliterate the extras

  5. Get Vocal – They may not read it, but they’ll listen to it

Still here? Congratulations, you’re already more engaged than most. Let’s see if you can stick around for the real thing:


Still here? Congratulations, you’re already more engaged than most. Let’s see if you can stick around for the real thing:


Lonely? Swipe for a date.

Hungry? Your delivery is arriving soon.

Bored? The next episode starts in 3…2…1…


It’s no wonder instant gratification is the expectation. Everyone wants to feel good, now. But while quick hits of dopamine are conducive to dating, digging-in and distractions, they aren’t great for pursuits that require a bit more time. Namely, reading. Hyper-convenience has many writers wondering what to do in a world that doesn’t have time to read.


The good news is that people still need words; I would argue more than ever. And while it may be noble to swim against the current, writing sagas for websurfers and manuscripts for millennials, the payoff ain’t what it used to be. I suggest hitting them where they are. When it comes to Wix users, they are online, skipping the text for the gratification of the click. So if our audience can only give us five words and a few seconds, it’s our job as writers to fiddle with format and produce a resonant message anyways. Sound hard? It is. Hopefully, these tips make it a bit easier.



01. Accept It (and Embrace It)


It’s long, but they’ll read it. Right?

Nope.


All too often, I find myself brooding over a skipped CTA, sentence or section. I think (or scream), “If they aren’t going to read it, what are we even doing?” Maybe you can relate.


The fact is that the average reader spends less than 15 seconds on any given webpage. And for all of our kicking and screaming, we aren’t changing the data. The quicker we accept the fact that most people will only read about 60% of our content, the quicker we can get to the task of writing more effective words. Take your medicine, then try to…



02. Frontload


Put the important stuff first. You lose people along the way. With regard to this article, studies say you’re already gone.


At Wix, frontloading means finding the conclusion and putting it first. Take the following message directing a user to support:


“Choose an appropriate category and sub-category in order to contact a support agent.”


The conclusion, the “so-what” of this message, is to contact support. So let’s front load:


“Contact support by categorizing your issue.”


Now the user knows she is in the right place and has a reason to keep reading. And once they’re hooked, we keep them engaged when we…



03. “F” the Layout


Eye-tracking studies have shown that users work through web copy in an “F” pattern. That is, given a block of text, users tend to read most of the first line or two, then pick up the first few phrases of the consecutive lines and eventually scan only the first word of each line.


As writers, this behavior isn’t ideal, but the good news is that this pattern makes it pretty simple to “hack” the scanners. Add keywords and crucial information at the beginning of lines to create an “F” pattern on the page; this technique will let you steal a few more seconds from each user. Here’s an example from Wix. Notice how the titles become more and more “scannable” as the user works down the page.



Just like frontloading, the “F” format hooks the user and implies there are juicy details if they read on. But keeping in mind the minuscule attention span of the average reader, it’s important to…



04. Say More with Less


While Wix has made it much easier for anyone to build a stunning website, it still isn’t a simple process. Neither is explaining it. Wix writers are tasked with informing, directing and supporting users of a complex product in very limited space. Said differently, every word matters.


Cutting the “fluff” from our text isn’t easy, especially when it feels necessary to convey something complex. And it often requires a second pair of eyes. My suggestion is to share your work as often as possible and to be your own ruthless editor. Find the core of each message and obliterate any letter that doesn’t serve the purpose. In the words of everyone’s favorite French aristocrat, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:


“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”


And when all else fails and online text goes the way of the hardcopy, remember that writers can thrive when we…


05. Get Vocal


Interfaces like Alexa and Google Assistant have paved the way for a new kind of human-computer interaction and one that spells opportunity for anyone writing in tech. While Natural Language Processing engineers and Artificial Intelligence developers are busy building machine learning engines and computers that solve their own problems, us writers can keep food on the table by making sure people actually use them.


And the great thing about voice interfaces? No more scanning. Users understand that listening is a crucial part of a conversation. In the absence of visual feedback, spoken (or machine-uttered) words reign supreme. So if you’re getting discouraged by the lack of glory you get from your online copy, maybe it’s time to dive into conversational design and start writing scripts for Siri.


Our collective attention span isn’t getting any more robust. For better or worse, that’s the reality. But instead of mourning the death of the novel or swimming against the proverbial tide, a writer’s time is better spent understanding the ways that their evolving audiences behave. And writing accordingly.


Personally, I say 5 words and 15 seconds is plenty. Just look at the billions of dollars generated by the three words, “Just Do It.” Or the four seconds it took Vader to explode Luke’s universe with, “I am your father.” Powerful little things, words.



By Tanner Swenson

UX Writer


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