I recently made a confession about my butterfly mind and how I was trying to overcome online distractions by using a plastic tomato.
Of course, it’s highly likely you DIDN’T read it.
Chances are you were deluged by emails, texts, calls, pop-ups, tweets, Facebook notifications and the general noise of life.
Or maybe, like me, you were tempted away by a funny video of a dog riding on a children’s roundabout instead.
Look, I’m NOT going to give you a link to the video.
Because I know you will be itching to click on it and at least take a quick look to see what it’s all about.
But take it from me… it’s a slippery slope… a gateway drug to harder stuff…
I saw the video of a dog on a children’s roundabout last week. Not sure how I ended up on it, something to do with Facebook I think – my brain must have switched into zombie mode.
After 30 seconds I came to and thought:
‘WHY THE HELL AM I WATCHING THIS?!’
And that was my point last week, really.
Like it or not, the internet is reprogramming the brain, stealing our attention and changing the way we read.
Instead of keeping our attention for more than a few minutes, we’re becoming online hunter gatherers, picking through hundreds of messages, blog posts, articles, audio streams, videos and adverts for the information we need…
…At the same time we’re distracted by things we don’t need at all – clickbait headlines, mind-numbing videos and funny comment threads.
So to follow up that email, I want to get down to some practical ideas…
Bury the dog – how to grab attention and hold it long enough to get your message across!
What can you do when your customers find funny dog videos far more interesting – at that moment in time – than what you have to say?
What can you do to get them looking at your excellently written email, your fascinating tweet or superbly crafted Facebook post rather than the Andrex puppy on a merry-go-round?
Well, firstly, you need to accept the reality.
You have to understand you’re not going to keep everyone engrossed at all times, and people will ignore you, skip through your hard work, or click away from your brilliance to look at a website full of eagles that look like Arsene Wenger.
Once you get past that realisation, there are ways you can tune into the new version of the human brain and make your online content work for short attention spans.
Here are some tips.
Email subject lines…
The inbox is a battleground of distraction.
Try something that challenges, dares or tempts people to click on your email.
Try using the short-attention-span ‘clickbait’ subject headings to get yourself noticed.
Keep your subject headings varied in style and format from email to email in order to disrupt expectations.
Last year Hubspot created a list of their favourite subject lines, which included these:
- “Uh-oh, your prescription is expiring” (urgency!)
- “Happy Birthday Lindsay – Surprise Inside!” (personalisation)
- Sender – Barack Obama: “Hey” (this one’s all about the combination of the massively high-status sender and the startlingly casual, friendly subject line)
- “Don’t Open This Email” (classic reverse-psychology)
- “What Can You Afford?” (challenging the reader with a question)
- “What are our customers saying?” (intrigue, nosiness and a desire for confirmation that you are following the right kind of business)
- “You’re missing out on points” (another classic – fear of missing out)
- “Not Cool, Guys” (this potentially snarky approach is irresistible)
The secret is to know what will push your ideal customers’ buttons, to speak in their language and to indicate what they’re going to open will be interesting, entertaining or useful.
Avoid anything that sounds too salesy, business-like or stuffy and formal.
Body of the email…
Make your emails easy to scan.
That means splitting up any long chunks of text with bold subheads that grab attention and advertise what they could discover if they read beneath it.
Put contents lists, bullet points, menus or a series of clickable headlines at the top of the email (or a sidebar), in order to give the reader a bunch of alluring options.
Make sure your emails are mobile-friendly and check how they look and read on smartphones – from 2010 to 2015, email openings on mobiles soared by 30% so that 67.2% of consumers now use smartphones to check their email.
If your text is too small, the links are hard to click and the images are jumbled, then they’re going to go straight to the funny dog video.
Social media posts…
According to a Hubspot study, tweets with images or videos get twice the engagement, while Facebook posts with photos make up 93% of the most engaging posts, getting 105% more comments and 85% more clickthroughs.
Try shortening your Facebook posts to 70 characters, and don’t always feel the need to fill 140 characters of a Twitter post.
Shorter posts get more engagement.
Wherever possible try and ask people to take action – this has also been shown to get more engagement.
- Ask them to download, watch or listen to something (a new report, a podcast, an ebook). Twitter’s own statistics say this will increase your clickthroughs by an average of 13%.
- Ask for feedback or opinion (tell me what you think) or try Twitter polls – a tool that allows you to pose a question with multiple answers and get people to vote.
- Ask for a retweet and you can increase retweets by an average of 311% (however, use this sparingly and for the posts to which you want to give the biggest boost).
Finally, think about the dog video – is there something YOU could create that’s funny, or unusual, or unexpected?
It could be a short YouTube video, an image or meme you’ve messed around with, or get an animation made by a clever creative type on www.fiverr.com.
Sometimes, if you can’t beat them, you have to join them!
I found something from a company called Takipi, who analysed the top 100 blogs and came up with 7 headlines that get the most ‘viral spread’.
“Surprising” is one of them, which has long been a classic word to add to headlines.
But these other 6 are newer to me.
- Hacks (hacking, hackers, etc)
However, before you assume that short blog posts are the obvious answer to short attention spans, bear this in mind…
First off, Google’s Panda algorithm is trained to seek out ‘thin’ content, which means very short pithy blog posts might get you penalised.
Secondly, remember grabbing the attention of as many people as possible on your website is NOT the main aim.
Once someone starts reading, you want to create a relationship only with those people who might subscribe, enquire further or buy.
A long blog post allows you to show off your expertise, draw a stranger into your story, and offer something of use, not just a soundbite.
What’s more, posts longer than 1,000 words get shared more, with more backlinks.
So while you’ll lose some short-term-attention-spanners who go off to watch the dog video, in the long run you’ll actually get more attention for that post, more credibility and visibility.
And if you can come up with a 3,000–10,000-word post every now and then, do it!
As long as you don’t try to pad it out, stuff it with keywords, or waffle, it should work well.
Remember, the human brain is now accustomed to scanning and sifting for information, so a long post holds a lot of promise and potential for the digital hunter-gatherer.
Talking of length – I’ve probably held your attention for more than enough time.
Congratulations on making it.
You’re now free to go off and watch the devil dog on a roundabout!
PS: Oh go on then… here’s the link.