Marketing Bootcamp

5 Ways to Increase Your Audience's Time Spent Reading

5 Ways to Increase Your Audience's Time Spent Reading
Image credit: Aikawa Ke | Flickr

Today, organizations have to do more than just create content and draw audiences to their sites. Now, they have to make sure audiences are actually reading their material.

Although several sources on the web state the “goldfish statistic,” the idea that the average American has an attention span of eight seconds, one second less than the attention span of a goldfish, this LinkedIn article disproves that, using research to state that there are a variety of attention spans, with adult attention spans reaching up to 20 minutes.

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Realistically, audiences have the potential for a pretty long attention span. However, with all of the content being thrown at them, how can an organization increase the amount of time audiences spend reading their material?

1. Know what the readers want (and create it).

The best way to increase the amount of time audiences spend reading is simple: create material they want to read.

The key to this begins with research. An October 2014 study by Digital Content Next highlighted the importance of researching audiences so organizations know who the most engaged users are, how they arrive at a site, how and where they are spending their time on a site, and what drives their attention, frequency and engagement.

Knowing what articles are most highly read and what on the site gets the most attention can help organizations create material that will grab and keep audiences focused, increasing the amount of time spent reading. Is it content that is humourous? Colorful infographics? Know what is popular and keep doing it.

2. Tell audiences how long the piece will take to read.

The more details audiences have about an article, the more likely they are to read it. Obviously this includes a headline and description of the article, but also consider listing how long a piece will take to read.

Think about it this way: even if the headline is only moderately appealing, knowing the piece will take only two minutes to read will help encourage audiences to give it a chance, thus increasing the amount of time they spend reading overall.

Use online tools to help calculate how much time a piece will take to read. To keep things simple and easier for readers, consider rounding the time off to a whole number.

3. Make it shareable.

A May 2013 study published in Science Magazine found that our society is increasingly relying on the digitized, aggregated opinions of others to make decisions. In human terms, that means we seek out the approval of others when making decisions. This helps explain why audiences share so much on social media -- they like something, but want the validation of friends and family.

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Organizations can take advantage of this by making content on their websites shareable. Allowing audiences to share items of interest to them via social media will help an organization’s material reach a wider range of audiences and may help to increase time spent reading, too.

As a general rule, audiences have similar tastes as their friends and family, so a shared piece will get more reads. The idea is, “If my friend read that and liked it enough to share it, chances are I will too.”

4. Break it up.

The key here is to make content easy to read. If audiences lose interest or can’t keep up, they won’t spend very long reading something. To keep readers engaged for the entire length of an article, break it up into sections. Avoid long paragraphs and big walls of text and use short, concise thoughts, incorporating images wherever possible.

In addition, use bolded headers to draw audience attention and keep articles organized. Utilizing lists is a good way to increase the time audiences spend reading, as well. Lists help break articles down into sections and give readers a concrete idea of what they’re getting into.

5. Go mobile.

A January 2014 fact sheet from the Pew Research Center about mobile technology found that, as of May 2013, 63 percent of adult cell owners use their phones to go online, and more shockingly, 34 percent of Internet users go online mostly using their phones.

This means a large portion of audiences aren’t using computers for online reading, but instead are browsing with smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. In response, organizations should be creating content that translates well to mobile devices. This includes tailoring sizes to fit smaller screens and making content easy to read on a mobile device.

It doesn’t matter how good an article is -- if a user can’t read it on their phone or tablet, they won’t spend long looking at it.

What are other ways to increase the amount of time audiences spend reading? Let us know in the comments section below.

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