I have a tendency to be a bit wordy. I love the idiosyncrasies of our beautiful language and enjoy playing with them every time I indulge in a bit of creative writing. I love to use colourful words to paint a picture, dramatic words to hold centre stage, and captivating words to tell a story.
The only problem is I do most of my writing online and online readers have a very short attention span. According to research by Jakob Nielsen, on a typical web page, users have neither the time nor inclination to read more than 20% of the words on show. We skim read online a whole lot more than when we read a book. We like our words to be served up in bite-sized chunks. When Twitter first appeared 140 characters seemed ludicrously slim pickings to most of us and now they feel like a meaty feast.
And that’s always assuming you make it to the page in the first place. Google engineers have discovered that people will visit a web site less often if it is slower than a close competitor’s by more than 250 milliseconds. That’s quicker than the blink of an eye. Tests done at Amazon five years ago revealed that for every 100 milliseconds increase in page load time, sales decrease by 1%. In 2009, Forrester Research found that online shoppers expected pages to load in 2 seconds and at three seconds, a large share abandon the site.
Clearly we digital natives are an impatient bunch.
That’s why the single most important rule I subscribe to when writing at work is “If in doubt, take it out”.
We must respect people’s time by making sure our communications are relevant, timely and above all concise.
2 thoughts on “How long have I got?”
The two lessons for me is that if you have a message, get it out in your opening paragraph rather than having fancy introduction and KISS.
Yep, always get the call to action into your opening few lines and the heading if possible. Interestingly the evidence shows that skim readers start at the top, fly through the middle and pay as much attention to the last few words as they do the first. It’s the bloated bit in the middle that gets least attention.