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Four Reader Myths You Can Safely Ignore

Posted By Georgina Laidlaw 28th of April 2012 Writing Content 0 Comments

In blogging, we often talk about the reader or the visitor, and what our audiences like (or don’t!). A lot of blanket statements are made around the ways we approach and connect with our audiences. But many of these ideas are little more than myth.

Let’s look at four of the most common myths—and why you can safely ignore them.

Myth #1. Readers don’t like to read

This is one of the most common reader myths. It’s true that readers may have limited time and attention spans, and may feel a lot of pressure or be juggling distractions when they’re online. They may arrive at your content wanting to simply get answers and get out. But next time you’re on a train or bus, look around and count how many people are reading on their smartphones or tablets. (Some may even be reading printed material!)

Internet users read all day, every day. But different audiences—which really means people with a specific need that relates to your blog—read differently.

Take imaginary web user Todd. Todd’s main passions include cooking and hiking. When he’s looking for a recipe online, he scans images and ingredients lists before deciding whether to read the recipe right through.

If he likes the sound of the ingredients, and the image is good, then he’ll speed-read your catchy introductory paragraph and all of the procedural instructions you’ve included in the recipe. His main goal at this point is: get the meal on the table, so he skips from scanning to speed-reading, and may only read in detail as he’s preparing the food itself, using the recipe. That said, if your writing style speaks to him on some level, he may bookmark your site for future reference.

On the other hand, reading other peoples’ hiking adventures is something Todd does in his spare time, for pleasure. He’s a fan of a few blogs on the topic, as well as some special-interest sites, and he’ll easily read three or four 1500-word-plus articles on different hike locations and trails, hiking stories, and hiking gear each week.

Todd reads, but he reads differently for different purposes—and differently on different sites. Working out how your readers read on your site is a crucial first step in understanding your audience and producing content to suit them. And on that point, check out James Chartrand’s post, which explains how to produce paragraphs that readers will stay glued to … all the way through.

Myth #2. Reader’s won’t scroll

This is a hangover myth from the early days of the web. While it’s true that if readers don’t see a thing that captures their attention above the “fold” (in the first content view that appears on their screens) they may not bother scrolling, it’s erroneous to assume that readers don’t scroll.

Again, look at those smartphone users on your commuter service. If they didn’t scroll, their smartphones would be useless. Perhaps it’s the prevalence of smartphones that’s encouraged readers to “rediscover” scrolling; perhaps not.

Whatever the case, we can rest assured that readers do scroll—provided the content interests them, and they can see that it does. That comes down to things like headlines and subheads, intros, images and, of course, titles—the easily scannable components of the content. And, as we saw above, when Todd was in recipe-searching mode, scrolling is necessary for readers to see and assess those elements.

The tone and rapport your establish through those components will also influence some readers, so the more your images, image captions, subheadings and so on can be made to resonate with readers, the better.

Myth #3. Readers need to be hooked with a story

Sometimes, readers just want answers. They don’t want a lengthy story that gives context—they have their own context, understand their problem, and just want a solution.

Todd’s just finished reading a great, story-style post about a hike he’s planning with some friends in the Spring. He looks up from the screen, dreaming of the sensational view from a lookout they’ll reach on the journey. Then, he spots the clock: it’s nearly five. His sister and her partner are coming over for dinner at seven, and he bought a duck to roast. The only problem is he’s never roasted a duck before! He jumps onto a search engine and looks around for a decent-sounding duck recipe.

As you can imagine, he doesn’t want to wade through a lengthy story about the time you cooked this very special recipe to mark an anniversary with a loved one, or as a bracing salute to the end of duck season, or even that time you’d shot the thing yourself.

What he wants to know is:

  • what it’s meant to look like
  • what he needs to make it
  • how long it’ll take.

In this case, Todd doesn’t need a story. He needs answers, and he needs them now.

Myth #4. Readers don’t want to be sold to

Readers may not want a sleazy sales pitch, but if you’re expecting them to part with their money, you can expect that they’ll want to know what they’re buying. And while, yes, that does mean they want to know the product’s benefits, sometimes it also means features.

Todd’s found a cool-sounding croissant-making workshop that he’s thinking of attending. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to bake his own, professional-standard croissants? Yes it would!

He’s reading that sales material, and he’s considering each of the benefits of the course. It’ll give him skills that’ll wow his friends and family! It’ll give him a good reason to get up every morning! He’ll earn a croissant qualification from the International Institute of Croissanteurs! Great!

But he has questions related to the course features. Will he be able to transfer the skills he learns to other types of bread- and pastry-making? Does he need any existing skills or experience? How big will the class be and will he need to bring his own equipment? Is there a gluten-free option (this is particularly important because he’s dating a coeliac, and we all know that the way to a new love’s heart is through his or her stomach!)?

Many sites answer these feature-related questions in an FAQ page or something similar, but far too many leave these questions entirely unanswered, on the basis that the benefits—in this case, bakery prowess—are all that matter. Your readers need to understand why your offering is different from or better than your competitors’, and that depends on how it meets their specific needs.

Todd wants to buy your course, so long as it meets his specific needs. If you don’t sell it to him—if you try to ride on the cachet of the IIC and the incredible promise of a shower of accolades from breakfast-eating friends, you’ll likely lose him.

Write for your readers, and their needs

Every site has a different reader set, and those readers have different needs. Don’t simply accept the common mythology around reader behaviour. As we’ve seen here, each individual has varying information and entertainment needs, so if you take the common readership rules of thumb as gospel truths, you may be selling yourself, your blog, and your readers short.

Do your readers read? Scan? Scroll? Want to be sold to? Tell us what you’ve learned about your audience in the comments. And don’t forget to check out James’s post on perfect paragraphs!

About Georgina Laidlaw
Georgina Laidlaw is a freelance content developer, and Content manager for problogger.net. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
  1. Finally! Georgina I don’t know how many times I’ve heard from the “pros” out there to limit the length of blog posts to 300/400/500 words. It was always the all encompassing answer to the magic blogging solution. But my little blog, with its 1000 and 1300 word posts has never had a reader tell me that my posts were too long. In fact, I’ve ended up with comments left that nearly rivaled the length of the post itself!

    Anyway, thank you for posting a piece that is trying to break the norm that the gurus call the magic formula.

  2. Must say a great post. Inspiring and informative. Indeed a good approach to try, thankx

  3. I think you are right in the “myths” you identify but I worry that you are missing a very large — and important — reader truth: Most readers don’t have enough time for reading. Most people are in a huge hurry these days. Sure, we can complain about it, but it’s the reality. For this reason I think it’s important to be BRIEF and to be INTERESTING. Do these two things and you can ‘t go wrong.

    • Georgina Laidlaw says: 04/30/2012 at 12:27 pm

      Ooh Daphne, that’s an interesting position. I think interest takes precedence over brevity every time. If something’s interesting to your readers, they’ll make time to read it—maybe now, maybe later. But if they can immediately see “value” in it (however they define value) they’ll read your content.

  4. Words are funny things — I raised my eyebrows when I read myth #4 — then you clarified in the first sentence. A lot of equate “sold to” with “sleazy sales pitch.” Which is why we go into a store and say “just looking” as soon as a sales clerk walks up. We don’t want a sleazy pitch. But once we’re interested – lots of questions! Information, not sleazy pitches. Had to laugh on the recipe one… totally me. Have a good weekend. :)

  5. Nice analogy from Todd’s case Georgina. Thanks a lot :)

    This all is true, especially #3, I ever encounter a blog with hundreds of comments, and what was the story behind? Because the owner is sick, sadly, just count for the time to passed away because of leukemia. Whether it is true or not, but she drive a lot of visitors to her blog.

  6. Hi Georgina,
    This was an awesome post about reader myths, and yes I heard them all as well. 99% of my commenters are bloggers and I know that all of them don’t read the entire post. I would like to know from my readers who don’t comment what their online behaviors are while reading my blog?

  7. You got me hooked with #4. I strongly believe that readers needs a professional service, which can be of help to their business. Selling to strangers can be difficult, but when you build a relationship with them first, it’s much easier to penetrate in and market to them. Thank you Georgina for crafting this piece.

  8. Yeah exactly, after all readers are humans too, just like you and me (I read this post completely). Several bloggers suggest that they are way too ‘lazy’ and have to be given something ‘special’ to make them more engaging on our blog. After all, they have come to our blogs to get information they want and they can certainly go the extra mile if you are willing to satisfy them. Great post! Really I loved it because after a long time I’ve read a post that falsifies some wrong myths. Thanks for this :)

  9. I don’t run a blog but I do run a forum and I must say I do agree with all the points made except: Myth #4. Readers don’t want to be sold to, but it might just be my particular forum crowd and it is probably different for blog visitors.

    As far as scrolling goes, I do not mind scrolling but I do not like these never ending pages that some sites use now that you can scroll and scroll and it just keep loading more and more. I personally would like to click to the next page.

    • I agree with you, Hando. I believe that ‘Myth#4’ is actually pretty much a fact. However, I do think readers like testimonials about what others have bought. If I read a testimonial that sounds real to me, I’m more likely to take a 2nd look at the product.

  10. Hi Georgina
    I love this post and you are so right. It’s so hilarious that sometimes I fall for these myths sometimes when I know better! I love to read, I love to scroll, I love to check things out, and if you have a product I’ll love or that I’ll need, then sell it to me!

    Thanks for the reminder, Georgina!

  11. Must say a great post. Inspiring and informative. Indeed a good approach to try, thankx

  12. I think it really all comes down to your target audience. I’ve seen niches where the audience is far more interested in an audio-approach than others. I think exploring websites in your own niche can help debunk any myths that may fill your head. People are generally lazy, but they’ll sift through your website if they feel it will benefit them. People only do things that will help them, in the long run.

  13. Hi Georgina,

    Think this is great to see, I always look optimize my posts for readers and I suppose knowing who they are has helped me develop blogs I have worked on, in some niches the points you mentioned like users don’t want to be read are so true, and in some niches they are myths.

    I think the tip is to learn who your users are but again if you optimize it for both the skimmers and the readers you will do well.


  14. I’m a scanner and a scroller, I have a limited attention span and will only read something that really draws my attention, I love lists or posts that are broken up with images or subheadings. My favorite type of content right now are infographics based on stats or lists.

  15. That’s an interesting point made by you. If smartphone users did not scroll, their smartphones would indeed be useless. Moreover if people do not scroll down, then how come some of the pages on the web generate the number of comments that they do. After all comment forms are always located at the bottom of a page.

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