012 The Ugly Truth About How People Read Online

These four research studies will prepare you for the fight ahead — a fight you can win

In this episode I want to put some teeth to the things I’ve been teaching. Some substance behind my claims.

In this case, I’ll present four research studies you should know about. They’ll help you understand the true state of what it means to write online.

I need to warn you: what you are about to learn could depress. Could make you throw in the towel. But don’t fear. I’m hear to help you get over that hump.

Because if I’ve carved out a career online, so can you. So stay with me. And you’ll climb out of obscurity and conquer neglect.

Enjoy the show!

In this 11-minute episode you’ll discover:

  • What a fascination advantage is — and how to find out what yours is
  • The common behavior of higher-literacy users (it’s not what you expect)
  • Why the first 200 words you write are your most important
  • One of the funniest articles on the dismal state of online readership
  • The myth about online sharing we all fall for
  • How to use this research to propel you into a mood to kick some online copy butt

The Show Notes

The Ugly Truth of How People Read Online

Damien Farnworth: Hi, welcome to Rough Draft, your daily dose of essential web writing advice. I’m your host, Demian Farnworth, Chief Content Writer for Copyblogger Media. And thank you for sharing the next four, five, six, ten minutes of your life with me.

This is episode 12, “The Ugly Truth of How People Read Online.”

And it’s brought to you by Authority Rainmaker, a carefully designed live educational experience that presents a complete and effective online marketing strategy to help you immediately accelerate your business.

We are holding this event in May of this year in beautiful Denver, Colorado at the stunning Ellie Caulkins Opera House.

The lineup of speakers is equally as stunning. We’ve got author Dan Pink, punk legend Henry Rollins, fascination aficionado Sally Hogshead, the omnipresent Chris Brogan, Sean D’Souza, Pamela Wilson, our very own Brian Clark, Sonia Simone, and Jerod Morris and, so on.

What a Fascination Advantage Is — and How to Find Out What Yours Is

One person who I am very interested seeing and talking to is Sally Hogshead because she is fascinating. I say that because she is the Fascination aficionado. She wrote this book called How the World Sees You.

There’s 49 archetypes. Personality archetypes based upon seven fascination advantages: innnovation, passion, power, prestige, trust, mystique, and alert. Unlike other personality types like Myers-Briggs or DISC, this is how the world sees you.

For example, you might be The Avant-Garde who has a prestige as the primary advantage, with innovation as the secondary.

Or you could be “The Wise Owl,” whose observant, assured, unruffled. Now my friend Jerod interviewed Sally, and if you listen to that episode of The Lede you can learn what my archetype is, what Jerod’s is, and you’ll even have an opportunity to learn what yours is.

So, that’s the long way of saying, you will want to see Sally this May at Authority Rainmaker. Get all the details right now at Rainmaker.FM. That’s rainmaker.fm/event.

Now, on to the show. So in this episode I want to put some teeth to some things I’ve been saying. Some substance behind my claims.

What you are about to learn could depress you. Could make you throw in the towel. But don’t fear. I’m hear to help you get over that hump.

The Common Behavior of Higher-Literacy Users (It’s Not What You Expect)

What I’m doing in particular here, is teaching you with four pieces of research you should be familiar with.

This is important for a web writer. It helps you see the environment in which you have to work.

The first comes from Jacob Neilson. “How Users Read on the Web.” The interesting thing about this study is it was published in 1997.

I don’t know about you, but I was barely online in 1997.

So this research summed up an article called How Users Read on the Web and the summary was basically, they don’t. People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.

Scanning text is an extremely common behavior for higher-literacy users. Neilson’s eyetracking studies further validate that finding.

Why the First 200 Words You Write are Your Most Important

Over ten years later in 2008, Jacob Neilson followed up with a similar study called How Little Users Read.

It basically had the same conclusion. On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.

So if you wrote a 1,000 word essay, 200 words might be read on average.

One of the Funniest Articles on the Dismal State of Online Readership

Fast forward from 2008 to 2014, Farhad Manjoo over at Slate wrote a piece called “You Won’t Finish This Article.”

Throughout this article Farhad has this cute little gimmick going on. He writes.

“I’m going to keep this brief, because you’re not going to stick around for long. I’ve already lost a bunch of you. For every 161 people who landed on this page, about 61 of you—38 percent—are already gone. You “bounced” in Web traffic jargon, meaning you spent no time “engaging” with this page at all.”

About a third of the way down the page he continues:

“OK, we’re a few hundred words into the story now. According to the data, for every 100 readers who didn’t bounce up at the top, there are about 50 who’ve stuck around. Only one-half!”

What data is he talking about? He asked Josh Schwartz, a data scientist at the traffic analysis firm Chartbeat, to look at how people scroll through Slate articles.

Towards, the end, Manjoo writes, “We’re getting deep on the page here, so basically only my mom is still reading this. (Thanks, Mom!)”

The Myth About Online Sharing We All Fall For

The final piece of research we are going to look at is from the founder of Chartbeat, Tony Haile, on Time’s website, an article called “What You Think About the Web Is Wrong.”

He exposes two myths that are important to us.

One, “We read what we’ve clicked on” which is wrong. His analysis says that, “In fact, a stunning 55% spent fewer than 15 seconds actively on a page.”

The other myth he exposes is “The more we share the more we read.”

However, he writes, “We looked at 10,000 socially-shared articles and found that there is no relationship whatsoever between the amount a piece of content is shared and the amount of attention an average reader will give that content.”

How to Use This Research to Propel You Into a Mood to Kick Some Online Copy Butt

So. Do you throw in the towel. Why write? Why write for the Web? Great question. Because there are still 45% of people who do read.

This is really just the digital version of the same phenomenon in the print world. How many books are on your bookshelves that you haven’t read? That you’ve been meaning to read?

Think about the money we spend on a set of classic volumes. That are never read. Or the mountain of books lying in the remainder bin at your local bookstore.

I’ve been guilty of reading a 1,000 word article online. The question is never length. It’s “is it interesting?”

Why write? Because you have something to say. Something important. Meaningful. Listen, I’ve carved out a career as an online writer.

Thousands of other people have, too. Just. like. you. And I get dozens of emails and tweets of people coming up to me and telling me how much they enjoy my writing.

Who cares if it’s just 12 people. I relish those 12 people. As you continue to write, you’ll build momentum, and those 12 will become 24, and those 24 will become 48, and so on.

Before you know it, you’ve got 500 regular readers. But now that you’ve got those readers. If you want people to actually read everything you write.

You need to focus on one thing. To the exclusion of everything else — you need to focus on this one thing.

In the next episode I will tell you how you can actually get people to read every single line you write.

Until then, take care, and don’t forget: drop me a rating or a review on iTunes. And if you haven’t yet, subscribe to Rough Draft, which, by the way is part of the world’s greatest marketing podcasting network: Rainmaker.FM.

Go check out our network and listen to some other great shows, like Sonia Simone’s “Confessions of a Pink Haired Marketer.”

Not only does she have a great show, but she’s got the best cover art, too.

Until next time, take care.