It’s a fact:
Most people who click on your articles don’t read them.
Don’t blame it on short attention spans. Long before social media distractions or 24/7 cable news cycles, eye-tracking studies showed that print newspaper readers viewed photos, headlines, ads and captions — in that order — before they even looked at the text of stories. If they even looked at the text of stories.
A sexy headline or stunning image may attract the initial clicks, but if readers aren’t strongly interested, it’s a losing gamble to get your articles read.
You can improve your odds.
- You don’t need vibrant artwork.
- You don’t need the best-ever website design.
- You don’t need to be a stellar writer.
All you need are these quick, easy text-only tricks:
1. Estimate the reading time.
Estimating the reading time sets expectations. Have you noticed this trend on sites like Medium?
When they’re busy, people may be more willing to commit to a thorough 4-minute read; they’ll save the 14-minute read for later.
As soon as you see how quickly your your bounce rates improve, I bet you’ll get a developer involved.
2. Use numbers in lists.
Numbers also encourage people to read your entire article — or at least skim for the main point of each number. That’s because people feel good when they complete the task of reading a numbered list. As Maria Konnikova writes for the New Yorker, “Once we click, lists tap into our preferred way of receiving and organizing information at a subconscious level; from an information-processing standpoint, they often hit our attentional sweet spot. … In other words, lists simply feel better.
“The process is self-reinforcing: we recall with pleasure that we were able to complete the task (of reading the article) instead of leaving it undone and that satisfaction, in turn, makes us more likely to click on lists again.”
The psychological power of the numbered list is at work on you right now. This article’s headline promised 5 things. I stopped the numbers in the subheads at 4. Most people will skim the numbered subheads, see the missing one and think I made a mistake without reading the article.
The real text-only trick No. 5? Use bullet points whenever possible. They’re text, but they act like tiny visuals and automatically draw the eye.
3. Write burlesque subheads.
A well-written subhead doesn’t strip naked. It dances burlesque, revealing just enough to keep your readers’ eyes locked on your words.
Don’t use subheads as boring summaries of the next few paragraphs. Do use subheads as provocative introductions to the next few paragraphs.
Take a look at this PDF of a Pulitzer prize winning article to see how just two subheads propelled the story of a mass murder. You don’t need material that dramatic, either. See how Sonia Simone pulls off the burlesque subhead act when she explained Copyblogger’s decision to close comments.
With frequent subheads that tease later action, you’re more likely to get your articles read to the end.
4. Highlight unexpected quotes.
Every print graphic designer has used a quote to attract attention in a design. Our eyes are drawn to things that aren’t part of the overall flow. A quote highlighted in a big block of text has that kind of jarring-in-a-good-way effect.
You can do the same thing online with the blockquote tag. Kick it up by using a quote your reader wouldn’t expect.
If your website template doesn’t have a good design for quotes, but you still want to draw attention, use bold or italics or all caps. Branding expert Erika Napoletano does this frequently when she rants online. For example, she highlighted this statement in an article about leadership, or, more precisely, lack of leadership:
I know six-year-olds that know that licking a stack of taco shells is a task on the ABSOF**KNGLUTELY NO list.
Here’s her article, in case you’re curious about what prompted that gem. Note: she uses strong, probably NSFW language. Depends on your work.
What do you think? Have I made my case that you don’t need stunning artwork or immersive design or outstanding writing to get people to read your entire article? Did you read all the way to the end? If so, leave a quick comment.
And if you think I forgot trick No. 5… go back and read trick No. 2