Jakob Nielsen, who’s a world renowned authority on web-based behavior, found online readers have time to read only 20%, to 28% tops, of a web page. That means a whopping 72% to 80% of the average web page goes unread or is merely skimmed, at best.
This doesn’t mean though, no one will read your content in its entirety. Assuming it’s both relevant to your reader and engaging, a percentage of your audience will read much more or even all of it. The more relevant to your audience and the more engaging the writing, the larger the percentage of readers that’ll make it to the finish line.
Neilsen’s data is very helpful in realizing just how important it is to know your readers. At the same time, it provides a crucial clue about your audience if they’re web based readers – they have limited time, or patience, to spend reading.
All audiences are not created equal
Remember in my last post I started to cover the topic of getting to know your readers? I used an example of a hiking enthusiast. He was writing an article on hiking the Appalachian Trail for an outdoors magazine.
I’m going to continue the topic of getting to know your readers here. But now let’s consider a very different audience.
Let’s say you’re an accountant wanting to write content for your website. Your audience is business owners. You want to provide informative content that’ll draw in leads as well as offer something useful to your current clients. So you’ve decided to inform business owners on how to prepare for tax season.
First, you consider your audience demographics. You realize this is very broad. Adults of all ages, ethnicities, and income levels own businesses and need to prepare annual business tax returns. So you’re writing for a very broad audience in many respects. But there is at least one shared demographic. They’re business owners. Something important you know about business owners is they tend to be very busy with little time to waste.
Add to this, your medium is the web. This is another factor that tells you brevity is key.
Finally, the topic itself gives you some clues about your audience. True, all businesses must file an annual tax return. But for most, it isn’t so much an ‘interest’ to them. Rather, it’s a necessity for which they just want to cut to the chase.
All these factors help you to know what your audience needs, which is thorough but fast facts.
An example in brevity
So how do you handle this topic? I’ll show you in the following example.
As busy business owners, you don’t have time to waste. Nor do you have room for error when it comes to your tax return. So prepare for tax time by gathering the following information:
your employer identification number (EIN)
a copy of last year’s tax return
your annual gross receipts
your annual cost of goods sold
a categorized list of your annual expenses
Notice I used no frills here. I used the adjective “busy” to connect with my audience. I also made a couple brief statements that would resonate with my readers regarding not having time to waste or room for error in their tax returns. But I didn’t use an abundance of colorful adjectives and adverbs. This audience, unlike the audience for the Appalachian Trail article, would have been bored with and annoyed by such unnecessary details that consume their time to read. Instead, I was direct and to the point.
What it looks like when you don’t know your readers
If I had attempted to use the descriptiveness here like I did for the Appalachian Trail hiking article, it might have gone something like this.
Prepare yourself for the time-consuming, burdensome tax season by gathering all the necessary documents. This lengthy list includes several items. First, dig through mounds of paperwork and find your employer identification number (EIN). Also, you’ll need a copy of your previous year’s incredible, eye-opening tax return. Hopefully, you’ve been keeping good records because the IRS now wants to know just how fruitful your last year has been.
And so on….
Did you make it past the first sentence? All those adjectives and wordiness are unnecessary and a turn-off for an audience of business owners reading on the web, especially on this particular topic.
If you read my previous post, you can now see the importance of knowing your audience. There’s a stark contrast in how to write effectively for each of these two very different audiences.
Summing your readers up
So let’s review what we’ve learned. There are several factors to consider that help you know your readers:
1. demographics, such as age, gender, region, and numerous other details for which there are statistical data
2. other group characteristics such as common personality traits or interests
3. the medium, whether it’s a magazine, newspaper, website, email letter, or other
4. the topic, anything from fun things to do and see on a tropical island to the risks and symptoms of cancer
Before you begin writing, evaluate each of these factors – and know your readers inside and out. Knowing your audience is the number one key to writing engagingly and compellingly. And it’s the component you must take into account with every other element you consider incorporating into your writing.
Now it’s your turn
If you found this post helpful, be sure to subscribe below to receive an email notification each time I add a new post. When you do, I’ll send you my FREE cheat sheet, “Write to Engage.” It won’t take the place of everything you’ll learn in this blog. But it serves as a checklist to help you attain and sustain your audience’s interest each time you write.