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Web User Attention Span Disorder?

Web users surf, as in surfing the web. DUH! In my view, the practice can better be described as skimming.

Of course web users do a lot of reading online. Think of how much time you devote to reading your e-mails. But folks who go online are usually looking for something specific. And so they surf around to find what they need. In other words, they skim...

A speaker at one internet marketing seminar that I attended stated that the attention span of a male can be as short as 5 seconds and that of a woman 10 seconds when they land on a website.

And if that isn't short enough, I'm also aware of one web usage study stating that the average web user spends 30 minutes a day online. Imagine, millions of web sites competing for your 30 minutes.

My theory is that long articles on the web just don't get read unless they deal specifically with the information a given user is looking for. Unless (and here's the important distinction) the reader's attention has been captured by great copywriting - a claim that I subscribe to that is put forth in his trainig material by John Carlton, a highly regarded copywriter in internet marketing circles.

Anyhow, all of this is quite normal behavior by the way. A short reading attention span hardly qualifies as a disorder in my view. For example, think of how you go about reading a newspaper. You do a lot of skimming don't you?

I've heard the owner of one large website devoted to online content articles say that the optimal length of an item published for web consumption is between 250 and 500 words. That's not a lot of verbiage to get your point across. Better get to the point fast.

Again, that's not to say that long copy should be written off. There's a ton of single purpose websites out there that feature excruciatingly long copy. They are the to the internet what infomercials are to television. And internet marketers claim that these sites sell a lot of stuff. Would you believe that they actually work!? A whole industry has sprouted around this phenomenon.

So what's the point you may wonder? The point is that in a medium where short attention spans are the norm, headlines and attention grabbers are crucial.

It's simple, yet very difficult to do at the same time: write headlines that seize the attention of readers, write good copy (a storytelling, conversational yet readable style works best) and engage with your reader. In other words, don't bore them.

John Carlton has compiled a list of power words that can inspire your writing. I use some of these words in the headlines and copy that I've placed on this site.

Have a look at my brief review of John Carlton's website where I share some of his recommended power words with you. Feel free to use them in the copy of your listings on this site to test how they can be put to work for you.


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