You spent a long time writing that blog post. Your visitors had better read the whole thing.
But here’s the cold hard fact: They probably won’t.
Is there some method that will help readers stay engaged for the entire article? Is it even worth it to aim for higher dwell time and full scrolls?
The bad news
The Internet is full of information that conspires against you. Basically, people don’t read entire articles.
Take this Slate article by Farhad Manjoo. Apparently, 16,000 people shared it, but how many read it to the end?
Or take this cheery headline from The Verge:
True to Adrianne Jeffries’ prediction, the article garnered several thousand shares. How many people read the article? Meh. Probably not a whole lot.
The stats in these articles aren’t all that inspiring.
Check out the graph below. You can see that a paltry few are even going to view the entire article. That leaves maybe your best friend and mom who are scrolling to the end.
But what about all those tweet numbers, Google plusses, and Buffer shares? Don’t get too excited. Chartbeat’s research demonstrates that there is “little correlation between Twitter activity and article completion.”
The Verge’s report had a similar depressing scientific analysis of shares vs. reads.
Jakob Nielsen, the venerable godfather of Internet research, told us way back in 2008 that most users read about 20% of the words on a page. In today’s content marketing world of 1,500-word articles (like this one), I’m surprised if people get that far.According to @NNgroup, most users read about 20% of the words on a page via @neilpatel #contentmarketing Click To Tweet
Sorry to disappoint you. When you look at the data, you might feel like all the time and money you spend on blog content creation is a glorious waste.
Here are the facts:
- People share articles they don’t read. Hypocrites!
- People read the headline and stop. Quitters!
- People read the headline, scurry to the bottom, and read the conclusion. Cheaters!
What’s the problem with people?
Smart people have tried to explain why people don’t read all the content. Here are their guesses:
- “Readers can’t stay focused.” (Slate, with data from Chartbeat)
- “We live in the age of skimming.” (Slate)
- “I’m busy. You’re busy.” (Slate)
The good news
As a writer, however, I’ve skillfully held back some important information until this critical point.
Statistically speaking, this is the golden spot in the article at which I’ve lost all the disengaged readers, and am speaking only to a coterie of engaged learners.
(Hi guys. Thanks for hanging on.)
Even though your articles are frequented and shared by hypocrites, quitters, and cheaters, a few chosen ones will read the whole thing.
These are your engaged users. They’re the only ones who really matter.
Let’s go back to some data shared by Slate:
This thermometer measures the readership of Slate articles, and its stats are pretty good. Your mileage may vary.
The red-hot spot in the middle represents the people who really love you – the people who are intensely engaged in the article. You are speaking to them.
Interested people will read your article. The whole thing. Even if (to quote Jay Baer), “your blog post is too damn long.”Interested people will read your entire article. Even if “your blog post is too damn long” via @neilpatel Click To Tweet
And that then begs the question – How do you make them interested? How do you get them to read the whole thing?
10 Commandments to Create Compelling Content
The secret to engaged readers
Here is a process-driven method that will help you understand the facts of life (not everyone’s going to read the article) and develop a strategy for the future (how to connect with the truly interested).
- Step 1: Don’t worry if all your users don’t read the whole thing. Some will. Some won’t. Focus on the best; forget the rest. Your goal isn’t to attract all the readers. Instead, your goal is to satisfy the ones who are the readers.
- Step 2: Know exactly who you’re trying to reach with your content. Every successful content marketing initiative is built on the foundation of a successful customer journey and persona. You can’t reach your audience, let alone the read-the-whole-article folks, unless you know who that is.
- Step 3: Create content that meets their deepest needs. Every piece of content should be designed to solve some hairy problem that your audience faces. People will do anything to get rid of pain or to achieve success. If your content promises and delivers on that point, you win.
Wonder What Content to Create? Try a Customer-Journey Map [Template]
Here’s what is important
Should you forget about the huge percentage of your readers who are skimming, sharing, and bouncing on your article? Should you completely neglect them, and focus only on the elite group of marathon readers?
No. Of course not.
Your content can still be effective, even if the skimmers, sharers, and bouncers aren’t that engaged.
Content effectiveness does not always require sustained engagement.
How can you make an impact with your non-reading users?
Consistency – Get them to come back for more.
Each piece of content should possess appeal. You may not engage readers for a long duration, but you should try to attract them into your conversion funnel.
One approach for doing so is through email captures.
The most successful inbound marketing channels are those that invite users to subscribe via email. Noah Kagan’s blog, OKDork exploded with massive traffic as he snagged thousands of email addresses from interested users.
Ultimate Guide: 11 Sign-Up Strategies for Building Your Email List
Buffer’s viral growth hack happened when it started pulling in thousands of email addresses through its sizzling hot content.
Style – How you do it is the message.
Every content platform and channel has a certain style and approach. When you can create a consistent brand vibe in your content, you are communicating to your users, even if they don’t read the whole article.
Take my blog, for example. My goal is to produce content with the following characteristics:
- Long form
- Image rich
- Ruthlessly tactical
As long as I’m producing content with these qualifications, I know that my content marketing is effective.
Both casual users and regular readers (there’s a difference) know what to expect from your content because it has a specific style. That, to me, is a win. I’ve established a brand message, even if I don’t get eyeballs on every blog post, every paragraph, every word.
The essence of content marketing is not the individual words of a given blog post. The essence of content marketing is successfully communicating with and attracting the right prospects.
Big idea — The main thing is more important than all the little things.
I would love it if every reader remembered the details of my blog posts – all the tidbits of research, facts, stories, and images that I showed.
That’s obviously not going to happen. A common statistic is that people remember only 10% of what they read.
The claim is misleading and not research-backed, but the point is plain: We don’t remember everything we read.
But what about the big idea? Every blog post ought to contain a central, compelling point. Can you get your reader to remember that?
Take a look at a standard assessment of read time on an article:
There are a lot of people in that low-read-time quadrant, aren’t there? A lot of my articles on Neil Patel and Quicksprout clock in at around 3,000 words. An average reader could plow through that article in less than 20 minutes.
But 20 minutes is a long time.
I applaud long-form content. It persuades better, converts better, shares better, ranks better, and is better.
But some of your readers probably aren’t going to read every word. And that’s OK. As long as they get the big idea, you’re going to be just fine.
How do you communicate the big idea? Here are a few ideas.
- Write a strong headline. More people will read your headline than any other part of the article.
- Summarize the main point in the beginning. A lot of people skim the beginning of the article and then fizzle out.
- Communicate the main point in images. People do look at pictures.
- Restate the main point in various bulleted and numbered lists. Lists are easy for the eye to intake rapidly. Skimmers love them.
- Emphasize the main point in each of your headings. Since headings usually have large typeface, they are easier to read as a user scrolls through or skims the article. They are more likely to be read and remembered.
- Restate your main point at the conclusion. If a reader doesn’t get through the entire article, she will probably jump to the end to understand your conclusion. Use this section to make your main point again.
The entire article should make a single point, and you should say it again and again and again.
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Let me leave you with the big idea. It’s not essential that you get users to read your entire article.
You can and should strive for engagement. But you don’t need to obsess over a full and glorious readership. Instead, give your users a memorable experience, deliver the point, and let the few readers – no matter how few – enjoy every last word.
What does your data say? Do users read the entire article?
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute