actually read

How do you make sure that people are actually reading your content?

You may spend a lot of time making sure that your content is converting well and that your readers are sharing it online, but is it actually being read? How do you know?

With all of the analytics and metrics at our disposal that tell us about traffic, knowing if your content is being read is often a black hole for marketers. That’s a problem.

Why You Need To Make Sure That Your Content Is Being Read

It can take a lot of time to produce great content, no matter how efficient your workflow is. As the old saying goes, time equals money, and it only makes sense to get as much out of your content as you can. After all, there’s no ROI in content that people aren’t reading.

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In addition to driving traffic, content marketing is also about building your reputation as a thought leader in your field. You need to establish yourself as someone your audience can trust for great advice and leadership. In order to make this happen, you need to make sure that you are writing highly-readable content.

The other problem you may encounter is that content that is being created but not consumed is demoralizing. There is nothing more frustrating to a writer than content that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. It’s up to you to make sure that doesn’t happen.

There are few things you need to consider about readable content.

Consider How Visitors Read Your Website

In 2006, usability consultant Jakob Nielsen used eye tracking visualizations to observe how website visitors actually read your content. In short, his conclusion can be summarized as “F for fast.”

His research found that:

  • As readers, our eyes move incredibly fast across a website.
  • The pattern we use to view the page is not the typical left-to-right method that we learned in school.
  • Rather, we typically read the page in a F-pattern that puts the most emphasis on the headline and the first few paragraphs of text.
  • As readers scroll down the page, they tend to emphasize the left hand side of the page, skimming the remaining content rather than reading it.
How people view websites - heat map

Heatmaps from user eyetracking studies of three websites. The areas where users looked the most are colored red; the yellow areas indicate fewer views, followed by the least-viewed blue areas. Gray areas didn’t attract any fixations. Jakob Nielsen

Nielsen’s results feel frustrating, but they are probably accurate.

At CoSchedule, we recently began testing how our own readers consumed our content using a free heatmap tool from SumoMe. This simple plugin allowed us to create heatmaps of our very own, using our actual readers as the sampling.

Blog-Heatmatps

This is what we learned about our own blog using heatmaps:

  • Our readers are highly focused on our content because we have a very clean page. This is good.
  • Our content followed the fairly typical F-pattern similar to Nielson’s findings. As readers moved down the page, they tended to focus more on the left side of the content.
  • On some posts, many readers didn’t make it past reading 20-30% of our content.
  • Based on clicks, most sharing took place at the pages 35% mark.
  • Highlighted text, links, and headlines drew plenty of attention.
  • Only 10-20% of readers actually make it to the bottom of the post.

These finding line up with some of the most popular conclusions and findings regarding content. The longer your content is, the less likely that everyone will read it. That said, there are also many benefits of long-form content so you need to find the right balance. You should also test this out for yourself.

Consider Where They Read Your Content

How many people read your blog on their phone or tablet? I bet it’s more that you think.

Research frequently shows that consuming email, searching the internet, and using social networks are some of the most popular activities done on a handheld device.

Many of these activities are resulting in click-throughs that are coming to your site on a mobile device. Do you like what they are finding?

After a quick glance in our Google Analytics account, we found that 15% of our total traffic is coming from a mobile device. This is a significant amount of traffic.

Overview_-_Google_Analytics

This means that you need to have a great mobile website or a responsive website design that automatically scales your website to work on any screen size. If you are using WordPress, this can be easily solved with a plugin like WPTouch or Automattic’s Jetpack plugin which offers a free mobile module that works quite well. 

At CoSchedule, we’ve opted for the responsive design option, which gives our readers the best experience possible on any device. This option also allows us to keep our lead collection initiates at the forefront as well.

mobile reading

Another place that visitors may be reading your content is from their RSS reader or social application, such as Feedly. This is a good reason to make sure that your entire article is being included in your RSS feed. While sharing only a portion of your content may help you get a few extra clicks, it won’t make your content any more likely to be read.

CoSchedule-Blog-Feedly

People are reading your content in RSS readers like Feedly.

Another place that your readers may be finding your content is their email inbox.

This is especially true if you rely on an email marketing program to distribute your content. I began thinking about this more when one of my coworkers recently shared how they handled email. They have broken it down so that they only check their email 3 times per day. Each time, they allow for 10-20 minutes, and they take action on all email, meaning that they either reply to it,  archive it, or create a t0-do item or task around the email content.  This method is efficient, but it is also bad news for your content as it leaves little room for reading and enjoying useful material.

This leads to something that I call the ‘context problem,’ which are the reading problems that arise from the context in which your readers are consuming your content.

Consider That Visitors Aren’t Just Reading Your Content

The really bad news about your content is that your readers have a lot more going on than just reading what you have to say. When’s the last time you simply sat quietly reading on your couch? Probably not nearly as often as you’d like.

In addition to reading your content, your visitors are also cooking dinner, riding the subway, checking their email, watching a movie, and emailing their mother-in-law – at the same time! How are you going to compete with all of that?

1. Allow Each Sentence To Lead To The Next
One of the most basic ways to keep your readers attention is to simply ensure that each sentence you write compels your readers to move on to the next. For example, the purpose of your headline is to get your readers to move onto the first sentence. The purpose of the second sentence is to get them to move on to the third. You get the idea. Keep your content compelling all the way through.

2. Follow The Inverted Pyramid Model When You Write
The inverted pyramid is a great tool for structuring your content in a way that readers will appreciate and consume. This is a method that newspaper journalists have been using for years. It works well because it puts the most pertinent information first, essentially embracing the idea that nearly 60% of your readers will never make it the end of the article. This method can also work well for your blog content.

inverted pyramid

3. Use Images To Make Your Concepts Simple
Images are great way to break-up your content and spare your users from a sea of text. By using images to illustrate the concepts you are writing about, you also make them easier to understand and engage with. This type of content is consistent with Nielsen’s research and focus on scannable text. In many ways, this type of visual content is becoming more important than ever in content marketing.

4. Focus On Easily Scannable Text
In addition to images, you can break up your content by creating text that is easy to scan and consume. Nielsen’s study offered several extremely useful tips on this:

    • highlighted keywords (hypertext links serve as one form of highlighting; typeface variations and color are others)
    • meaningful sub-headings (not “clever” ones)
    • bulleted lists
    • one idea per paragraph (users will skip over any additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the paragraph)
    • the inverted pyramid style, starting with the conclusion
    • half the word count (or less) than conventional writing

In this chart, Nielsen gives us a great example of how different writing methods can be used to make text more readable.

Warning: You’re Not Going To Read This, But You May Have Already Shared It

We are now well past the 30% point of this post, which means that most of you are no longer reading this article. For those of you who are, here’s another jaw-dropper for you to consider: recent research has shown that there is no correlation between content that has been shared via social media and content that has been read.

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In other words, more shares does not equal more reading.

Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat, was recently quoted by the Verge saying that they’ve “found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading.”

Our own research mentioned above confirms this suggestion. On our own blog, I believe that most people share our content after only reading 20-30% of the text.

Ouch!

Data likes this makes the subject of readability all the more relevant. How do you create content that people actually want to read

For each of us, the answer is different, but it is becoming increasingly vital. With the adoption of content marketing on the rise, businesses and organizations that truly want to stand out amongst the crowd have their work cut out for them. They will be best served by rethinking readability and making sure that it is alive and well on their blog.

Admit it. How often do you read a full post before you share as compared to scanning and skimming before sharing it?