Like a lot of bloggers, I started out my career in the college newsroom. I was especially lucky enough to be in J-school around the same time that blogs were being blamed for kicking newspapers to the curb for good, which meant that Internet users were often a topic of discussion.
And, ever since then, I’ve been hearing about how online audiences are lazy, dumb and unable to read a piece without subheads. You read about it all the time: the Internet is shortening our attention spans, people won’t read articles above a certain grade level and they certainly won’t wait for sites to load for longer than a second or two.
But, is it fair to actually blame readers for that? Is it on us to entertain, or on the masses to be entertained at whatever we throw them?
I’m not waiting for your page to load.
There’s nothing you can do to impress me after I’ve waited for a full minute for your page to load because, quite simply, the information on your page isn’t unique. This isn’t 1999. I’m not going to sit around and twiddle my thumbs while your janky Flash site loads. I’m going to hit up your competitor, who cares enough about me to not waste my time with bad design and even worse load times.
I’m not reading your bad writing, even if your information is important.
When I see a loading bar, I hesitate exactly for one second and then I click away, like the majority of web users. That hesitation is me taking a moment to remember my childhood, when loading screens were as common as blinking GIFs, and then I’m clicking away as fast as I can before I get trapped in some sort of time-vortex filled with Flash animation and black backgrounds with yellow Comic Sans text.
Unless you’re somehow delivering breaking news that no one else has, I’m not going to read bad writing. With so much content available to me, it’s beyond narcissistic to assume I’ll read your content when you haven’t taken the time to make your content reader-friendly.
What is reader-friendly content, you may ask? It’s content that you’ve taken the time to edit. You’ve taken my time into consideration, and you haven’t just rambled on. It’s also well written in general, and probably either makes me laugh, smile a little or ruins my day because of the sadness it’s conveying. Anything less, and I’m clicking away.
I’m not using a dictionary to get through your blog.
Okay, so I probably already know whatever two-dollar word you just pulled out, but I’m still not going to read your blog if you’re constantly reaching for the thesaurus to make yourself sound really impressive. First of all, it makes for terrible writing. More importantly, it can drive away readers.
No one wants to feel dumb when they’re just trying to read up on their industry or get the daily news. It’s not the time or the place to make people look up words they may not know. It’s true that we used to write at a higher grade average, but we’re not living in the same world we used to. If readers don’t understand (or don’t appreciate) your writing, they’re not going to hang around. They have options, and they’re morally free to explore them.
You have options too—but unless you’re at a particularly erudite publication, you should think really hard about driving away people willing to give your content a chance just because you want to sound smart.
In the era of newspapers, media producers held all the cards. People had to content themselves with simply getting the information they wanted. Now, choice abounds. Like all free markets, the people have most of the control. It’s up to content producers to learn how to compete in this new space by offering better content and putting readers first.