Business owners and marketers are often told that, “while we’re consuming more information than before, the pace of life is increasing to the point where we focus less”. This may well be true. The problem is, it’s always been true. It was true in 1900. It was true in 1960. It was true in 1980 – and it will likely be true in 2050. Just as it’s doubtful that life will ever slow down, it’s hard to see how the volume of information created would ever reduce. This is simply the way of things – and has been pretty much since the dawn of civilisation.

Now, this isn’t to say that we don’t have to factor in attention spans when creating content, more that we don’t have to be defeatist about it. A lot can be done to grab and hold people’s attention.

Create great content

The Internet is full of content. Since much of it is poor, is it surprising that people glance over the majority and move on? This isn’t so much ‘shortening attention spans’ as it is ‘content quality declining’. If you want to engage people, create great content. It works with books, films, music and theatre – and it also works with marketing.

Create original content

If people have seen your content somewhere else, why would they stick around for your version? There may be few new real topics, but there’s lots of scope for creating your own take on things – and delivering it in your own way. (As an aside, search optimisation and content strategies based on reusing content essentially ran out of steam in the last couple of years, as Google tightened its focus on squeezing duplicate content out of search results.)

Create what people want

A lot of content is ignored because it’s self-serving. It talks about the company but not about the customer. Content should serve the customer; it should solve their problems, give them something new, be important to them, amuse them and so on. It should not bang on endlessly about you. Think about what your customers need. (Lots of companies obsess about bounce rates on their website page – how long someone spends on a page before leaving. High bounce rates are not unusual, simply because people may be looking for one thing and you’re saying something else. The core way to solve almost all bounce rates issues is to give people what they are looking for.)

Deliver information in an engaging way

There are lots of ways to deliver information. Text, like this blog, is one. We can improve the way information is absorbed by also considering images (such as infographics), video and audio. People do read text, but they can more readily absorb video – and are more likely to share text when it is supported with graphics or a video. They can all work together, or you can use each, on its own, when it best suits. Images and videos get great shares – but they’re not enough on their own for most content strategies. It’s best to create your own media, so your content is entirely original.

Make sure it works on mobile

More than half of searches take place on mobile devices (source: Google). On Twitter, around 90% of video views take place on mobile (source: Twitter). I can throw stats at you all day long, but the bottom line is that content has to work on mobile. That does not mean it has to be short, or it can’t be text only. It just has to work – and work well. An amazing number of mobile websites have text that’s too small to read, or where the contrast between text and background isn’t great enough: a couple of example barriers to access (and reasons for bounce rates) that have nothing to do with the content itself. Text should be easy to read, succinct (this is different from ‘short’) and supported by media. Sharing should be encouraged.  

Don’t accept that people won’t absorb detail

Don’t let anyone tell you that ‘no one reads text’. Even in 1958 people said this – and it wasn’t true even then. The longest running and most successful advertisement at that time, David Ogilvy’s ‘At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock’ had almost 800 words. Whether content is short or long is down to the message, the story needing to be conveyed. It doesn’t work (and isn’t needed) for everything but it can work for many things. Sure: case studies, product overviews, interviews and so on; but also advertising features. In a test conducted in Reader’s Digest, an advertisement designed to look like a magazine article pulled 80% more orders than the identical text, when designed as an advertisement (source: Entrepreneur). Advertising features can work in print, or as mini-documentaries in video or audio format.

For good content, attention spans are most definitely still there. Make it different, interesting and relevant to the reader, deliver it in an impactful way using a mix of media, and it will be found via search, read, watched and shared.

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