In just a brief one-twentieth of a second–less than half the time it takes to blink–people make aesthetic judgments that influence the rest of their experience with an Internet site.–Kamakshi Tandon
REUTERS, Internet users judge Web sites in less than a blink
Jan. 17, 2006
We’ve got less than a blink to grab a reader’s attention. The reader clicks in. Looks. Decides and then . . . and then what? . . . Do they stay or do they leave? If they stay, did what they see lend our words more credibility or did it take some away?
Design, curb appeal, packaging–whatever you call it–it’s what brings customer-readers further into our businesses and our blogs. They recognize what works for them and what doesn’t. If it doesn’t, they’re gone so quickly that even our stats programs don’t know. Try the Blink Test if you want a baseline idea of what your readers are seeing before they blink.
What about reluctant readers, undecideds who decide to stay a little longer? What can we do to convince them to stay? Better yet, how can we turn them into fans?
Capturing the Attention of Reluctant Readers
In educational publishing, we have a euphemism, “reluctant readers.” It’s used to describe kids who, when they see a textbook, they turn away to find their inline skates. When I write on literacy, they are my favorite customers to write for and about.
I don’t much like that euphemism applied only to those kids because I’m constantly having to remind other teachers that,
. . . we’re all reluctant readers and becoming more and more so. If you’re a skeptic on this point, try reading the tax code–or any “have-to” document on your least favorite subject. You’ll wish that there were something more to see than long columns of endless text, something to break up the boring words.
With more and more ways to spend our leisure time, even television shows are becoming bulleted lists.
Reader Support as Part of Your Brand
Those kids we call reluctant readers do leave their inline skates to read what they’re interested in–things like books on extreme sports and the latest gaming websites and blogs–if they’re made right. Here’s what you can take from educational research to catch the attention of normal, everday reluctant readers. You can use it to brand your blog as a worthwhile source of quality content. It’s one more way, that you can make customer-reader support a resounding part of your niche brand.
- Use sub-heads liberally. Sub-heads break the text into shorter bits. Subconsciously that not only tells me what this bit is about. It also says I only have to read this far and then I get to breathe again. People not only like subheads, search engines like them too.
- Use everyday words. A big vocabulary doesn’t bring us closer together, it sets you apart. The word use is a fine one, use it. Don’t set it aside for utilize. That makes me, as a reader, stop to wonder whether you mean something different from the what use would have said. Anything that stops a reader works against your message being heard.
- Use pictures, images, art, and color to enhance your message. Do this with care. It’s easy to distract. Place only one or two images. Place them where they add value to the text. Try to put images where you’d expect to find them. If you’re not sure ask a customer-reader to give you feedback on how you’re doing. Remember that design seems easy, but it’s not.
- Take the time to write something short. The point here is to make every word count. Read your post over to take out all of the words that you don’t need. Be lethal. It’s amazing how many extra words you can find when your quest is to go looking for them. A few sentences ago, I turned this into two posts instead of one.
- Use typographic cues, such as bold and italic, to show what’s important. Be consistent and try not to make everything important. If you use underlined text to show what is a link, don’t use an underline for anything else. If you make everything important, then you’ve really said that nothing is.
Each of these points are about helping reluctant readers like me figure out quickly what’s important and what’s not, so that when I’m done reading what you wrote. I feel like we’re both smart.
Reluctant Readers to Loyal Fans
Ever read something that made you feel like the writer was saying something you always thought? . . . or something that just made you feel smart for reading it? Bet you went back to see what else that writer had to say . . . .
But then, you knew all this. You have a favorites list. You know what it takes to make a fan. I’m just offering some hints on how to get the undecideds to come in, so that you get a chance to do just that.
–ME “Liz” Strauss