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!