Fighting for readers’ attention

It’s unfortunate but true: People don’t read news online. Sure, they may skim the headlines, but after that, their attention wanes.

A recent Harris Interactive poll found only 19% of participants read online news, blogs and online press releases word-by-word. 34% read the headline before moving on while 25% skim the headline and article. That leaves 81% of people who don’t read any news-related content they see online.

Unfortunately for businesses and organizations, those same news reading patterns affect news releases and blogs, as well. All is not lost, however. There are steps you can take to ensure your key messages get across by making them smart and brief.

Since we began carrying smartphones, it seems most of us have shorter attention spans. It’s easy to get distracted as different notifications go off. We hear a friend’s text ring tone and jump to see what they have to say, pulling our attention away from what we are reading. As communicators, we need to break through those distractions.

Before you begin to write, think about the most important information and why it matters. The headline and first paragraph need to be devoted to that information. Keep your writing precise and short, but don’t make it shallow — use words with energy and impact. Pare down your writing by fighting the urge to overshare and don’t include trivial information.

Another piece of advice: Keep headlines short. Thanks to Google and social media, many headlines get off cut off at 55 characters, which means readers who scan headlines will not see your complete message. If you want people to read what you wrote, aim for fewer characters and words.

I know it’s hard to keep what you’re writing short. I fight the temptation myself. I always want to include as much information as possible, but just because I found something fascinating doesn’t mean readers will feel the same way. The key is to stay focused on the details you think will be the most surprising and interesting to readers.

When you put the audience first and focus on what’s important to them, it’s more likely you can get them to read to the end of the article.

Communications Manager MaryBeth Matzek has more than 25 years of journalism experience.

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