The “Attention Web” and Content Marketing

By Stephanie Diamond

So why should the attention span and distractibility of the average customer matter to you as a content marketer? Obviously, it matters because you want to get your prospect’s attention, and doing so becomes more difficult with each passing day. In addition, what marketers have come to believe about engagement metrics (that they consist of measures like page views or clicks) may not be true.

That’s why marketers started to consider whether the time people spend engaging with content or the scrolling they do might be better ways to measure their interest. This led to what is called the “attention web” movement that involves selling ads based on attention measures rather than sheer numbers (of clicks, for example).

An article on Time.com looks at the myths held about how people consume online content. Authored by Tony Haile, CEO of Cheatbeat, it’s called “What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong” (see the following figure).

Time.com.

Time.com.

Haile derived his findings based on an investigation his data analytics company conducted by reviewing 580,000 online articles. Central to Haile’s argument is that fact that using the click as the most important measure of attention is flawed. Following are two of the four myths he presented:

  • Myth: People read what they’ve clicked. This seems like a common sense assumption, but it may not be true. You assume that the reader clicks the article with the intention of reading it. This may be true, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the reader actually spends time reading that article. She may glance at it and move on.

    The content marketer rejoices in the number of clicks he gets, but the reader may actually make no connection with the brand. The content marketer then creates more content just like it in the mistaken belief that his reader was engaged. You can see how this would negatively impact your entire content program.

  • Myth: The more someone shares, the more they read. You would expect that a person would share only an article that he found compelling. This is another fallacy. People share for all kinds of reasons. Haile found no correlation between the amount of time spent with an article and its number of shares, once again shattering the assumption that such articles have hit their target. It may be more likely that people share articles based on their headlines and source. From these factors, they make a guess about how pertinent the content is to their audience.

You probably find this information disheartening, as most serious content marketers do. So what can you do to deal with audience members with short attention spans? Tonya Wells provides some suggestions in her article “Micro Content: Capturing Readers with Short Attention Spans” on the Infographic World blog (see the following figure), a graphic design firm.

An Infographic World article about short attention spans.

An Infographic World article about short attention spans.

Wells suggests using the following:

  • Mini-graphics: These would be graphics that focus on only a piece of data rather than present a long infographic. This approach has value because it does use a visual to capture attention but doesn’t make the reader spend a long time figuring it out.

  • Short lists: A short list appeals to someone who is on the go. You impart information in small chunks, like a bite-sized snack.

  • How-to articles: Again, you can see how to make this format work for a reader with a short attention span. You can do what you did with the mini-graphic and focus on learning how to do one thing.

  • Tips and tricks: This is a popular format for all audiences. By limiting the content to a few items, you have captured attention but not slowed down your reader.

  • Frequently asked questions (FAQs): Keep them short and answer one specific question in each one. That way, you help readers make progress and don’t slow them down with fluff.

  • Social media posts: By definition, some of these posts should be short and to the point, like Twitter’s 140 characters. Don’t miss an opportunity to write short content that links out to a longer form post if the reader is interested.

Aside from specifically developing content for short attention spans, marketers and researchers have been looking for ways to improve their metrics so that they can gauge true reader interest. One example of this effort is the work of Christoph C. Cemper, the CEO of Impactana, shown here. Impactana is a software tool that measures buzz versus impact.

Impactana.

Impactana.

Cemper explains his approach to buzz versus impact in his article on the Marketing Land blog, as shown in the following figure.

Marketing Land.

Marketing Land.

Cemper says that each marketer should ask herself, “Did our content resonate with the audience?” This is exactly the question content marketers must ask to ensure that their content strategy is hitting the mark. Here’s the difference between buzz and impact:

  • Buzz: Buzz is something that all content marketers like to have. It highlights their brand and gets the attention of their peers. It clearly has value. But if you’re looking for true engagement, you need to go further than likes and retweets.

  • Impact: Impact is measured by the amount of attention your reader gives your content. For example, comments on a blog post or downloads of content signal real interest. That’s because the reader stopped to write something in relation to the content or downloaded content that he wanted to look at later.

Cemper’s prescription is to evaluate these concepts on a matrix, as shown in the following figure. The original matrix can be seen on the article on Marketing Land. The matrix shows that you obviously want to aim for both high buzz and high impact, but that average buzz can still be valuable if you have high impact.

Matrix of Christoph C. Cemper explaining buzz vs. impact.

Matrix of Christoph C. Cemper explaining buzz vs. impact.