5 Tips to Prep Your Content for a World of Short Attention Spans

Prepping your content for a world of short attention spans

Let’s face it. We live in a world of skimmers and swipers. Tinder boy’s not cute? Swipe left. Buzzfeed already released 10 articles this morning? Quickly skim through until you find one about ‘Yoncé in all of her expectant glory… or whatever else sparks your interest these days.

We barely give content a second of our time before we completely disregard it, and onto the next we go. As content marketers, how do we win over these short attention spans? Yes, thorough, long-form content is still well-acclaimed, but it’s just not the world we live in anymore. And I always like to say, if you can’t beat em’, join em’.

Here are some quick tips to get you started… and in list form, to keep your attention (obviously).


1. Start with a great headline

Whether shared on social media or a content module like Outbrain, your content is surrounded by other content, trying just as hard to win over the hearts of its prospective readers. How do you stand out? Start with a great headline. But what does “great” mean?

  • Make it relevant! If your headline doesn’t match the content of your article, readers will quickly become disappointed, and likely throw you on their list of “do not click” brands.
  • Keep it short and sweet. A headline of 40 to 50 characters is ideal. Anything longer than 60 characters starts getting cut off on some platforms, and you don’t want that.
  • Lists and numbers are a skimmer-lovers dream (like this one!). Allows them to skim even more easily. And fun fact: odd numbers perform better than even. So if you only have 6 reasons why you should stop swiping right on Tinder so much, figure out another reason to make it 7… shouldn’t be too difficult.
  • Test, test and test again. Different strokes for different folks. By testing up to three headlines (at least), you can see which variation is performing best, and put more of your marketing dollars toward that headline. Outbrain makes testing like this super easy… just saying (insert shameless plug here).


2. Couple that great headline with an even better image

You can’t have an awesome headline without an even more awesome-r image to match.  Remember, your audience is more visual than ever before, digesting video and imagery better than text by a landslide. Landslide proven: a recent Wyzowl study found that 79% of consumers would rather watch a product video than read text — up from 69% the year before. Takeaway: get visual, people!

  • Pick a great header image. This is the image that will make or break the click through. Choose wisely. Make sure the specs are sized properly for your different promo types. And remember, relevant lifestyle photographs and close-ups work best. Take a hint from Sunset Boulevard… “Alright Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”
  • Use imagery to break up your text. It’s a nice break on the eyes every couple of paragraphs or so. Internal monologue: “Yes, a little image break! Next section, go.”
  • Throw in some video or infographics. Visuals are simply easier to retain for readers. But just as you want to make your articles skimmable, you want to make your visuals short and engaging — keep it simple!


3. Add value

Are you not entertained (Gladiator voice)?!

I have a general rule for myself as a Customer Engagement Manager. If my communication doesn’t add value to my reader, then I simply don’t promote it… or even write it, really. This is where understanding your audience comes into play. Understand your audience before writing your content.

As a content marketer, quality > quantity. Make sure you’re not spewing out blog posts just to reach a quota. Strategize each and every post you promote based on the audience at hand. And always ask yourself: what value am I adding to my readers life with this content?


4. Formatting is king

It goes without saying, skimmers love bold headlines, numbers and bulleting. It makes their job of skimming much easier by displaying your main points loud and proud throughout your article. And don’t be afraid to bold certain sentences or words as well to gain more attention.

5. Summarize… even more

Not only do most people skim — a lot of readers just scroll and look for a summary at the bottom of the article. How dare they! (There’s a summary at the bottom of this article, if you’re feeling extra lazy today. You’re welcome.)

Summaries bring it all together for the reader. Maybe you enjoyed my Gladiator mention in #3 so much that you forgot what #1 said. A summary is your chance to keep the reader’s attention and leave them with a memorable send-off that they can take away with them once they leave your site.

As promised…

We’re living in a world full of skim-readers and short attention spans. To boost our engagement with them, we have to tailor our messaging for them. How?

  • Start with a great headline. Lure them in with relevant, short and sweet wording.
  • Couple that headline with an even better image, and more visual content like video and infographics.
  • Add value to your readers life. Don’t write content to write content. Understand your audience, then write content that they can engage with.
  • Formatting is king. Use bold headlines, numbers and bullets to make skim-reading even easier.
  • Summarize, again. Bring it all together for the reader to leave them with a memorable take away of your content. Or help the extra-lazy who skip right through to the summary.

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