Recognize this guy?
You see, Gary Vaynerchuck is all about depth. Depth of attention.
He recognizes that we live in the attention economy. Whenever you have the attention of a lot of people – you have profit.
As a blogger, you have to fully internalize this truth. If you can write in a way that holds attention effectively – your blog will grow. You will have more returning visitors, more conversions, more social engagement…
Whatever is the reason why you blog, it can be realized better thanks to readers’ attention.
Your blog posts are visually scanned by 79% of your visitors. They don’t read them cover-to-cover.
Research shows that we read on average 62 words, counting from the top of the page. Even the things that are shared on social media are not being read attentively by a person who shares them.
A well-designed blog post helps reader to focus.
Most blog posts on the web get 7-8 seconds of attention.
When the first difficulty arises, the reader most often leaves the site.
Visual dominance – the main principle of getting attention
Your readers judge the importance of information in your text by sight. They focus on the most visually domineering elements first.
The attention of your reader moves from the most important to the least important elements.
The principle of visual dominance states that readers’ attention shifts along the elements more visible than other elements.
The brain of a skimming reader is constantly judging what to read, and what to omit.
It wants to minimize the effort, while retaining the most valuable information from the text.
That’s the reason why you should design your text in a way which puts visual emphasis on what you want your reader to see as imporant.
Visual dominance does not mean size. It can be achieved using several visual characteristics:
- Whitespace (the more whitespace you include around a specific statement, the more it will pop out)
- Size (bigger text is perceived as more important than a smaller one)
- Color (intense or contrasting colors get more attention than more balanced ones)
- Repetition (information seen over and over has more probability of reaching the reader)
Simplicity – the main principle of keeping attention
Attention is a limited resource. Every element of your blog post brings the risk of wearing it off.
On the web, you are never alone with the reader. You are competing against thousands of stimuli coming from different tabs, music in the background, calendar or facebook notifications.
Simplicity doesn’t mean that you have to dumb your text down. It means that your blog post, or at least every section on it, should have a very clear message to put across.
If your blog post is confusing, your reader will very easily avoid excessive mental effort by stopping reading your text, and switching to a different tab.
Your role as a writer is to keep your message simple.
Features of a text that wins attention
Marketing research shows that attention span of the Internet users is dropping.
Your text will only be one of hundreds of stimuli that distract the user.
That’s why you need to communicate in a structure of a reverse pyramid.
It means that your conclusion and the most important information should be placed at the very beginning of your blog post.
Shorten your sentences. Write in such a way to convey a lot of meaning in few words.
Your blog is not a novel. Readers mostly read only the headlines and the very beginning of some paragraphs. Your text should be able to convey it’s message with help of those 2 elements only.
Shorten the paragraphs. A good paragraph will more likely contain 3 sentences than 6.
Write in a way that you are going to be read in. Deliver your message in small bites and ommit any fluff.
A well-organized text is easy to digest both visually and mentally.
A badly-organized text will make your reader miss a lot of important information. It will increase the mental effort and compel the reader to leave your site.
Leave only such sentences, which have been stripped off everything unimportant. Create such paragraphs which are easy to scan visually.
Every important information should get it’s own line. If it’s imporant, it’s worth it.
Second and further sentences within a paragraph do not get as much attention as the first ones. Consider them as a space for cognitive rest and a time to digest the first sentence.
Conciseness is achieved by perfecting the copy over and over – not by mechanicaly pressing the delete button.
Copy is perfect when there is nothing left to take away from it.
In order to write in such a way, you need to deeply understand the role of each word that you decided to leave in the copy.
Blog post elements that keep attention
Headlines and subheadlines. According to Copyblogger, 80% of people will read the whole headline, and only 20% will proceed forward with the article.
Title that you choose can influence the blog post performance by over 50%.
If you want your blog post to perform, you need to create a hypnotizing headline.
A headline that commands attention will allow you get more eyeballs on your content in a very crowded space, where every media outlet fights for a couple seconds of attention.
A good headline is:
- Simple – it cannot be said better with fewer words
- Unambiguous – it cannot be understood in a different way than you intended
- Unique – it does not fall into a template that already became too ubiquitous
Playing around with headlines is a subtle game. For example, Content Marketing Institute discovered that adding a colon or a dash within a headine, increased the number of click-throughs by 9%.
Brainstorm over your headline for at least half of the time that you devote to writing your blog post.
Ordered and unordered lists. People tend to look at list and bullet points much more often than at regular text.
A list gives the reader what he wants in just the right way:
- It provides facts for immediate practical use
- It focuses on the most important information
- It lays everything down in an easy-to-digest structure.
Lists also create a lot of space compared to paragraphs. That allows for an easier visual scanning.
A convenient list consists of 3-7 points.
Use longer lists only when they contain the exact information that your reader is looking for.
A list can be easily created by finding a long sentence with a lot of commas.
It will most likely be possible to rewrite that sentence using a concise, scannable list.
Readers look for information that has already been selected and put together by somebody else. A list increases the likelihood that the information is going to be read.
Numbers and special characters. Numbers make the text easier to scan visually – especially when the reader is looking for facts. Even a simple 5 instead of “five” will increase the readers’ interest.
In headlines, odd numbers bring more clicks than even numbers (even 20% difference).
Symbols such as % and $ can grab attention stronger than words percent and dollar.
Attention can also be won with BIG LETTERS, but you should use it sparsely as they can loose their emphasis if used to often.
Remember not to overuse any kind of attention-grabbing techniques.
Numbers promise concrete facts, and should follow up on the promise.
Quotes from within and outside the blog post. One of the easiest way to win attention is to use quotes.
They can come from within the text or from an outside source.
Differentiate your quotes with size, typography or graphical elements.
The principle of visual dominance will make users stop at quotes while they scan the text.
A quote can dominate thanks to 5 visual principles:
- Font size
- A typography that stands out from paragraphs’ typeface
- Whitespace that separates it from other sentences
- Disruption of the conventional paragraph pattern
- A color that differentiates quoted content from the original content
Within quotes, try to convey the most important information for you and the reader.
They are very visible, so they can help you provide more value.
Column width, number of words within a line.
A text column should have a width that will make it easy to grasp it with one glance. If your reader has to move his gaze a lot when reading an article, he can lose attention.
Research shows that optimal column width on a page is 45-75 letters per line.
For text viewed on smartphones it is 35-50 letters wide.
Information placement. What is most important, should be placed in the top left corner of a website
This is a part of the website that gets most attention. The end of the text is reached by only 20% of readers.
A text column can sometimes be made shorter by including a photo on the right side of it. It is valuable if you want to focus attention on 1 or 2 specific phrases.
Leading. It is the space between 2 lines of a text within a column. It influences how a line, a paragraph or a page looks. It also influences the reading speed.
A good leading is achieved when the text doesn’t look too dense or too diluted.
Leading should be 2-5 points larger than the font size (e.g. 14 for Verdana 10)
The bigger the text, the smaller in proportion the leading can be.
A headline can use a more dense leading – it will increase the readers’ attention.
Different fonts make up for a different effect, given the same leading. Adjust your leading to the font being used.
Some fonts, where the non-capital letters reach high (e.g. Helvetica) should use more leading.
If you choose a different set of colors than a black text on a white background, increase your leading.
Alignment. Left-aligned text works because it matches the way we read – from left to right.
Right-aligned can be used for specific fragments, e.g. quotes.
Justified text should be reserved for print, instead of web, where you are dealing with displays of different width.
Center-aligned text should be used in no more than a few lines. It is hard to read: each line starts and ends in a different place.
Whitespace. Whitespace is what separates copy from visual clutter, and lets the reader focus on words. If you want to attract attention to something, add a lot of whitespace around it.
That, which gets a lot of whitespace around it, is perceived as important.
Blocks of text should be separated from images and other blocks of text with some whitespace.
Every section of an article should be an article on its own: with a headline, introduction, benefits, CTA etc.
Whitespace allows elements to breathe. A text that breathes is easier to read.
Font size. The most commonly used font sizes are 14, 13 and 12 points.
Letters that are too small, are too difficult to read and end up forcing too many words into one line.
Paragraphs made of such lines are harder to grasp with one glance and, in effect, are harder to scan visually.
Font size should be a result of meaning and function of a specific sentence.
Headlines have bigger size, because we want the reader to read them.
Citations and the footer can be smaller, because they are being read by people who already decided to take a look at these sections of content.
Regular paragraph text should be somewhere in between in terms of font size – it should inform, as well as attract.
Text color and background color. The best readability is achieved by a dark-grey text on a bright, but not white, background.
This combination allows for an effect that is very similar to reading print on paper.
By analogy, a black background should be coupled with a light-grey text, instead of a white one.
Contrast of pure black and pure white can tire the reader after a longer while.
Dark text on bright background is more readable than bright text on dark background.
However, a bright text on a dark background can be used to accentuate some elements of the text.
Colorful text shouldn’t appear anywhere apart from headlines or a logo.
Typeface. The most popular fonts are Arial, Verdana, Helvetica and Georgia.
Other fonts which are used quite often, are: Lucida Grande, Menlo and Tahoma.
Paragraphs are most often written with sans-serif fonts (Arial, Verdana).
Headings can be typed with a more decorative, serif font (Georgia).
Don’t use non-standard typefaces only to be original.
A non-traditional font can become hard to read and cause technical problems.
Good font increases readability and works on every device.
Bolding, italics. If you differentiated more than 10% of your text with bolding, you didn’t differentiate anything.
Sentences that are bolded out, attract attention only when they aren’t surrounded by other bolded out sentences.
Only then can they benefit from the principle of visual dominance.
The same things applies to italics.
Italics can help with making the quotes stand out. They are often used to accentuate the jargon terms. Italics is harder to read than regular text, so don’t use it on whole paragraphs.
Images. First image on a blog post is the visual counterpart of a headline.
Images spike up emotions and guarantee an instant communication with your reader.
A well-though-out image can:
- Grab attention – images work faster than words
- Make a promise – by stating what’s most important to the reader without using words
Benefits of a good image can be enormous, but finding the right picture is very, very difficult. Even the best text can be made better thanks to the right image.
Illustrations. Illustrations work similar to photos.
Their advantage is that they can display whatever you want. Therefore, the right fit for a specific text is easier to achieve with illustration than with a photo.
Illustration can help the text in many ways, e.g.:
- By telling a story – metaphors and scenes that show the effect of your product
- By providing a description – you can use illustration to explain a process or an aspect that you mentioned in a text.
- By working as an icon – and being another attention anchor within the text.
Illustration makes sense only when it supports the goal of the text.
It should be appropriate to the paragraph and a headline with its style and what it contains.
An imperfect illustration suggest a random and imperfect content.
Infographics. An image can be successfully used to transfer information.
90% of information received by your brain is made of images. That’s how we learn the fastest.
A well-thought-out infographic can:
- Explain complex topics in simple ways
- Prolong the time spent on site
- Build popularity on social media
A good infographic can work almost like a landing page for your service or a product.
It sells by educating people.
Infographic has a large size and usually is placed instead of text, not besides it.
It works great as a downloadable material or an alternative way of reaching the reader.
It requires a lot of work, but usually gets a lot of attention as well.
BONUS: a checklist of 30 visual traits of a winning blog post
- Sentences end within 1 line
- Paragraphs consist of no more than 3 lines.
- The blog post starts with the most imporant content and ends with the least important content (it is possible to delete the post from the bottom without loosing its core message)
- Each paragraph starts with the most important sentence
- Single, most imporant sentences are separated with blank lines.
- Paragraphs are separated with blank lines
- Headings are separated from the paragraphs with a larger leading
- The most important part of the blog post can be seen in the top-left corner of the page
- The most important content can be seen without scrolling
Elements that focus attention:
- Numbers in headings and first sentences of a paragraph are written numerically, not in words.
- Long lists are posted in hte form of unordered or ordered lists.
- Lists contain no more than 7 elements
- Quotes stand out with font size and/or color
- Headings stand out with font size and/or color
- You bold out 1 out of 10 sentences at most.
- Italics are only used with single words or sentences.
Spatial orientation of a text:
- Text is left-aligned
- Margins separate the text column and the headline from other elements of the page
- Each line consists of 45-75 characters.
- Text is dark, on a bright background
- Lettering in a headline is at least 2-2.5 times larger than the letters of paragraphs
- The leading of the headline is equal or a bit smaller than the font size of letters within a headline
- Paragraph font size is within the size of 10-14 points
- The leading of the paragraph text in 2-5 points larger than the font size of paragraph text
- Paragraph font is readable and works on all devices
- Headline font is readable and works on all devices
- The meaning of the photo/illustration is understood without reading through the text
- The photo/illustration amplifies the text meaning
- Photos/illustrations are chosen publication, author and content in mind
- Graphics are not similar or the same as in other articles.