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How to Overcome the Goldfish Effect: Tips on Creating Content that Will Win Your Audience’s Attention

I want to start out by saying, I know that was a long headline (with great alliteration, I might add).

But I thought that if I just had “How to Overcome the Goldfish Effect”, not many people would know exactly what I was talking about or why it was important to overcome.

(Let me just, it is super important to tackle)

I mean, if I asked Who knows what the Goldfish Effect is?

I figured it would be less of this:

And more of this:

SO, what is the goldfish effect exactly?

The goldfish effect is the phenomenon that human’s attention spans have fallen to 8 seconds—1 second below that of a goldfish. 

And if that doesn’t bother you, then know that the decrease to 8 was a 4-second drop from 2012 where our attention span was 12 seconds.

You might not think much of those 4 seconds, but they are crucial when it comes to marketing, content, and your brand. 

THE PROBLEM

Now while some businesses have tried to solve this problem by creating even more content, this has only served to increase the clutter that consumers now have to sort through.

Research shows that the average consumer is exposed to 10,000 messages a day (Research World). So now you not only have to be a 1 in 10,000 kind of message, but you also must battle time for those precious 8 seconds (and diminishing) of human attention span to get your messages across.

Since, as mentioned before, content is the heart and soul of marketing, many businesses make the mistake of thinking that the solution is to create more content. More frequent content, more types of content, more content drafted, more content shared, more content topics…you get the idea. 

But instead of helping the situation, it only ends up hurting, and you dig yourself deeper into the hole of overlooked, glossed over, scrolled past, disregarded content. 

When there is an influx of new content, consumers start to get overwhelmed; and rather than hand-selecting the few pieces they’ll pay attention to, most consumers end up trashing and disregarding most, if not all, of it. 

This has been made especially easy with the rise of social media where all it takes is a scroll or swipe of the thumb by users, and in a matter of nanoseconds, old content is gone and new has taken its place. 

That is, of course, until they no longer want to look at that either, so their thumb works its magic, and the cycle continues. 

But as difficult or bad as that may sound, there is a solution. Instead of more, focus on right

Creating the right content for the right audience at the right time.

Now, this is going to look different for business because no two are exactly alike in goals, mission, purpose, products/services, audience, etc. However, the following is a guideline to help you figure out what this kind of content will look like for your business. 

Tips for Creating Content that Will Win Your Audience’s Attention

1. Know Your Customer

The first step in creating the right content is knowing your customer.

If you don’t know what your customer wants or who they are, how can you tailor your offerings to meet their needs? And if you can’t or don’t meet their needs, how can you acquire the interest of the right people? And without the right people interested, you have no business. 

Some things to think about for your target audience include: Demographics, Psychographics, Where they go for content, What content they like, Lifestyle, etc. For more information, check out our blog post on Audience Targeting!

2. Emphasize the Headline

The headline is THE most important part of your content. The hard truth is that you have approximately 5 seconds to wow the readers with your headline. In fact, 80% of the audience will view your headline, but only 20% will continue reading (Medium).

This is why the headline is so important—it’s your first chance at getting an interaction from a reader. Having a killer headline may just be the differentiating factor that gets your piece of content noticed, read, shared, and most importantly, engaged with.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when writing your headline:

  • State numbers to identify takeaways (if applicable)
  • Use emotional words or adjectives
  • Ask a question or use the words How or Why
  • Make a promise / Clearly state the benefits

3. Keep the Theme Consistent

Once you’ve set a theme with your headline, continue this into the body of your content. What it comes down to is this: make sure your text follows the headline as far as the topic goes. 

While this may seem obvious to you, countless companies use content just to plug-and-push their products or services. However, when a consumer reads the headline, they start forming expectations before they’ve even opened or glanced at the rest of the piece.

Because of this, it is important that the readers receive, in the body of the content, what they expected from reading the eye-catching headline. A big tip for ensuring that this is the case is to produce and share content that is relevant and useful to the audience you’re trying to target.

4. Structure your Content

With structuring, it’s important to make the content as easy to read in order to retain their attention. The format structure includes things such as length, text, bullets, sections, etc. 

One thing to keep in mind is that just because there are short attention spans does not mean there is a need for shorter content. In other words, don’t be afraid to go long! Some people will see it as you are providing more substantiated content. 

While the format will differ depending on the type of content—blogs, whitepaper, e-books, social posts—you are creating, here are some tips to keep in mind when structuring your content:

  • Favor short paragraphs over longer ones
  • Include bullet points or numbering when appropriate
  • Use subject headings to separate sections of the content
  • Bold, underline or italicize important pieces of content

5. Make it Visual

Okay…this one is a bonus one! But just as important. When I say visual, I’m not only talking about videos and images – you can add other visual aspects to your content such as graphs, charts, infographics, etc.

Data shows that visual content is 40x more likely to get shared on social media than other types of content.

Figure 3. Adapted from information from HubSpot. “The Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics.” HubSpot, HubSpot, www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics.

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