“How well do you know your audience?” This is a question that many of us writers and content creators take to heart since the very early stages of our professional training. Unfortunately, as content marketing gains popularity, we find ourselves caught in a race that has nothing to do with engaging the reader but to churn out x number of content a week (if you’re lucky). For some writers on news and community websites, you’re faced with the challenge of writing as many as ten articles a day even.
This type of volume-based writing is more for the SEO-writer but not for the other types of writer. Apparently there are many writing styles that got neglected in the online world such as descriptive writing, narrative writing, persuasive writing, and technical writing.
Let’s take a peek into consumer psychology. Quite obviously, if you’re writing for a middle schooler, you’d want to use a different tone of voice and choice of vocabulary as oppose to writing for someone in their thirties. The concept is essentially the same when writing for consumers of a brand. The only difference is that when you’re working for big brands, the scale at which you would want to understand your audience becomes enormously important.
Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers
Let’s begin by splitting your audience by age group: the Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers. A recent research by BuzzStream and Fractl identified that the top 4 content types for all three segments are the same. The takeaway? You definitely don’t want to skip blogging and using images whenever there’s the opportunity.
You Won’t Finish This Article
The headline of this section says it all. Online readers just do not invest time to read every single word of an article. Does that mean you should be stuffing everything that is important in the first two paragraphs? Probably not. That would only jeopardize your article quality and flow.
Instead, make good use of headlines and sub-headings. Regardless of the medium, whether it’s a newspaper print, pocket book or online article, headlines, titles and chapter headings will always capture the reader’s attention first.
For online writing, good use of sub-headings would mean audiences have more freedom to jump between parts of the article. It also helps to make the article more digestible.
Finally, if the consensus is that many online readers rarely complete reading a whole article, most likely they would jump to the very ending for the conclusion. This makes the last paragraph very important. Whenever possible, make it a habit to sum up the entire article into a concise last paragraph.
There is no denying that a large portion of online content consumption now happens on mobile devices and portables. (Yes, I know that you know that mobile is important and you already have a plan that involves responsive websites, faster rendering and so on.)
Besides the technicalities, for the writer, it’s worth to note that the audience behavior when consuming content on mobile and on desktop is significantly different. Hence, there is more to content optimization for mobile readability than the standard layout and appearance. For the writer, you’re in fact optimizing your content style and writing to meet the multi-tasker-type audience. While desktop readers may multitask by switching between two tabs, or have some music running in the background, the mobile reader is commuting on public transport, having lunch, running on the treadmill or even while walking in the park.
In China, there is even a phone lane for those whose attention is split between consuming content on their mobile phones or chatting, while also commuting.
The takeaway? For long articles, the audience may quickly lose their spot when they are multi-tasking. Use lots of images and sub-headlines to act as breaks and bookmarks. The use of slimmer paragraphs would also make long articles more digestible.
Headline Skimming and Image Scanning
Online reading behavior is simply different from offline reading. Reading print encourages you to really focus on what you’re reading while digital reading tends to be more of a surface-level reading. The rise of social media, that basically works around images and text snippets further influence this habit to skim headlines, scan through a few keywords and scroll over images.
The takeaway? Similar to the pervious section, you’ll want to make sure your headline stands out and do make use of sub-headings. Since most headlines will appear in bold, a larger font-size or different color, when your audience skims through the article, these headlines will stand out and encourage the reader to continue skimming through. Is skimming bad? As a reading behavior, most probably yes. For those who are tight on time (which is quickly becoming the norms for many people), it’s a great skill to have. For brands, making good use of headlines and images may just be the deciding factor whether your content marketing sees fruition.
So How Well Do You Know Your Audience?
In summary, research pinpoints that regardless of age group; most online content consumers prefer blog articles and images. The increase use of mobile devices for internet browsing nevertheless puts forth new challenges. Long articles can be made to flow better and easier to digest by the use of sub-headings and slimmer paragraphs.
While this article focuses on the behavior of consumers when it comes to reading online content, other factors that may determine the success of your content development strategy is of course, to also have a clear understanding of your brand’s products and services.