Have you every watched an old movie and noticed how much slower they move? It isn’t just an illusion, there are longer pauses. Slow sweeping pans of the camera as the director zooms in for a close up and lingers on the face of the actor or actress as they work their way through a long monologue, reminiscent of one of Shakespeare’s soliloquies.

Today, conditioned by rapid moving music videos and action flicks, we have a much shorter attention span. We want the dialogue snappy and subtle changes in camera angle to hold our attention. Contrast the final rainy scenes in Casablanca to Sweet Home Alabama. Look at how much faster the camera and dialogue moves. This attention shift is evident in all facets of our lives, particularly as consumers of online media.

We have moved from long form blog posts and wordy status updates to full conversations in only 140 characters or complex emotions reduced to a single image or emoticon. The challenge for marketers is to find a balance between the need to make our messages consumable at a glance for today’s distracted reader, while still sharing something meaningful and relevant for readers (and search engines) who want more.

5 tips to help you write for people with short attention spans:

1) Create content at a glance

How do you serve up your blog roll? Are you still showing the content of each post? The problem with that approach is not every reader will be interested in every post equally. Instead of making someone scan all the way through one post before they get to the next, use an excerpt strategy, with short snippets so visitors can see at a glance if anything catches their eye. Entice readers to click for more information with an interesting image, animated Gif or clever preview of the rest of the article.

2) It is all in the headline

The title may be all you have to catch someone’s attention so make it count. Consider something funny or controversial, just remember shock value alone won’t win fans. If you have a controversial headline, make sure you back up the title with related content. Your headline is a promise, and if you don’t deliver, your readers won’t come back.

3) People like lists

Numbers in headlines also work really well. While we know you can’t solve the entire world’s problems in just five steps we always hope this will be the time. Also a short list indicates a short post, so the reader feels confident they can  get in and out quickly. Just a word of caution, don’t over use the list. When I see a blog roll with nothing but lists it tells me you aren’t very creative. So mix it up. Use lists as part of your content mix but don’t rely on them every day.

4)  Guide the reader with headers and subheads

As people land on your page, they skim quickly looking for answers or interesting information. While lists are one way of guiding readers through your content, headers and subheads can do the same thing. This is an old trick from my brochure writing days. I would write just the headers and subheads first. My objective was to put everything a reader absolutely needed in the headings and subheads. The detail in between was simply icing on the cake, extra, but not necessarily critical information.

An added benefit of using headings and subheads is the signal it sends to search engines about what is the most important information on the page.

5)  Say what you need to and move on

The challenge? Google and other search engines like long posts. They appreciate lots of key word rich content which helps establish authority for you site. Your readers however get bored sooner, so follow the lead of the old newspaper reporters and always put the most important information up front.

I probably could have written five more tips, but you probably would have stopped reading right about now, so I will call it quits too and leave you with two movie clips to compare the rainy scenes I described in my first point. Watch them both, they are short and see if you notice the differences in the film style. Then go write something, short and easy to scan.

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