People do read copy, but ONLY to the extent that they need to.
Readers’ ever-shortening attention spans leave little room to consume fluff or highly refined details.
We now live in the age of the TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read) video and explainers.
The Marvel Comics’ TLDR series on YouTube is how I caught up on what I needed to know to watch the movie Avengers: Infinity War last year. A breezy, expedient content option that beat the alternative of sitting through all the hours of movies and back story that converged into the Infinity War story.
It’s just one example of how we are living In an age where people increasingly consume fewer content details and tune out to information faster than ever. Even around topics that generally interest them.
This phenomenon is even more important when writing content for digital flow or voice interactions.
Got a lot of good content and meaningful, deep things to say? For many pressed-for-time readers, it doesn’t matter.
I remember all the work I used to do in preparing to present my work to my boss in advertising. I’d sweat and toil to develop this big, rich opening for my presentation to give my work context and delicious depth. A presentation where I’d make sure the messaging covered every detail, every contingency my boss could possibly want.
Filled with knowledge, meaty slides, and a big, robust preamble, I’d start pitching my idea to my boss, only to be stopped dead in my tracks as I heard him say, “ Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just tell me what’s the big idea.”
Irked, deflated and interrupted from delivering my 12-part symphony of a presentation, I was thinking, “I invested a lot in this. This is worth a lot.”
However, my view was competing with my boss’ thought, “Is this worth my time?” And he didn’t see it yet.
My sessions with my boss now stay with me when writing copy or chat and voice responses with users.
Just because you add more to your content doesn’t mean you add engagement value to the user.
Good digital experiences spoil us with the expectation of speed. That also applies to absorption of content.
Uber: get a car in 4 minutes. Amazon Prime: get products in two days. Venmo: pay bills in seconds.
We’ve been coddled and spoiled by the speed of good services. So unless the user is prepared, providing presentations with large amounts of lengthy information are not treated like finding a huge pot of gold. Instead, to the average reader, it feels like a discouraging hill that looks way too big to climb.
And most won’t.
People will read content they are interested in.
What they are interested in is just getting through a flow or getting the answer they asked for. There’s no time for a grandiose story. They are depending on you to tell them what they need to know in the straightest line possible. That’s it.
The user wants just enough content engagement to take action.
This is particularly important in digital user flows that are guiding a user to complete a task.
Tips for writing content that keeps user attention:
- Laser-like writing.
No preambles. No excess words. And while long phrases might be nice in the first interactions like a FTUE (First Time User Experience), for most digital flows, keep it tight and crisp. Each word dense with actionable value. Your frugality will be appreciated, especially if the user needs to constantly return to that part of the flow.
- Let readers sip your content.
People scan content for bites of meaning rather than review entire paragraphs and sentences. Once a reader finds an interesting conceptual chunk, they usually stop and delve deeper.
With that in mind, break your content into smaller, digestible parts – with the key meaning clear in just a few words. This way, each “sippable” piece of content contains just enough of a new idea, insight or direction that helps them feel it offers value. And like a nice piece of tasty candy or a delicious sip of a drink, they’ll be encouraged to grab the next one. Then the next…
- Providing content shortcuts help.
Particularly with repetitive actions like voice instructions or voice feedback for voice assistants. In these instances, there are tasks with little ambiguity between words and intent.
For instance, for voice assistants, I can say “news brief” Instead of having to say, “Alexa, please start my news brief.” The NLP has enough from this short phrase to parse the keywords and act because it’s pretty clear there’s a match of between words and intent and what skills Alexa offers.
- If a user needs to know more think they think they do, quickly tell them why to keep their attention.
The user that is not familiar with a flow also may not know what they need to complete the journey. For example, a recent flow I worked on required biometrical authentication to move forward. If they didn’t pay attention to that and didn’t have biometrical authentication, their journey will dead-end and the user will feel like they wasted their time.
Since they don’t know that they don’t know, use your content to tell them.
Usually, it’s just accomplished by using that extra content to quickly tie why they need that extra information to complete the task they desire.
For instance, in the biometrics example:
“To proceed, “Face ID or Touch ID is required to activate this feature.”
Using a little extra content here is like raising your voice a little to say “hey, this is important.” And if you don’t overdo the use of excess content in other parts of the experience, your out-of-the-ordinary action should catch and keep the user’s attention.
Suddenly understanding that knowledge or action you’re describing is tied to achieving their satisfaction, they’re more likely to continue reading to comply.
The user wants to read as little as possible yet get as much benefit or value as possible.
It makes any writer’s job difficult. Writing and telling users they need to pay attention to information they need to succeed is a little like trying to give your kids critical information as they’re barely listening to you and running out the door to school.
But with kids and readers alike, if you love them, you have to try.