Saturday, January 22, 2011

Skimming Below the Surface

I have a fleeting attention span.  I constantly find myself quickly skimming through articles, but can you blame me?  Twitter has made it remarkably easy to get all the information I need in under 140 characters.  When I find myself having to read an article for school or work, I catch myself skimming.  If I’m lucky, you’ve made it this far and you’re still reading.  It got me thinking, how can PR professionals disseminate meaningful messages to target audiences without the fear of grazing eyes?  
I found the article, “Gaming the system with skim-proof content,” addressing this very issue.  I knew the article had to do with skimming so before I clicked on the link for the full article, I made myself extremely conscious of where my eyes went.  The first thing I did was scroll and stop at a picture.  Then I went back to the top of the page and read through the first paragraph.  I ended the ritual with a full scroll down to judge how long the article is.  
This tells me:
  1. I like pictures 
  2. I want to get an idea of what the article is going to cover 
  3. I care a lot about how much time I’m about to invest in this article.  
I’m immediately turned off because it is two pages.  The fact that I’m not happy about having to click to a second page may say a little something about me and my attention span, but I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one who feels that way.
I buckled down and, without grazing, read the article.  With the use of eye tracking software, Nielsen Norman Group discovered a distinct “F” shape pattern in the eye’s movement.  What this amounts to is readers are focusing on (and often times only reading) the first paragraph and the bolded subtitles in the body of the content.  Your first paragraph it your “do or die” moment for the reader.  If you don’t have them there you have nothing.  This concept throws away any notion of romancing a topic before getting to the nitty gritty.  

Here is a picture of the "F" shape scan featured in the article
So here is what we know: Readers graze and we only have one chance to get their attention.  What do we do?  The fact that we have some concrete evidence of where our eyes land on web pages gives us some sort of jumping off point.  It doesn’t mean we shape our margins in the shape of an “F” and hope they read everything.  The article offers a few helpful tips in economizing the space on a webpage.  For me, reading your content, stepping back, and asking yourself, “Do I care about this?” and, “Would my friends care about this?” matters the most.  
HERE is the article.  Let me know what you do when you skim it (because I know you will skim though it).  Where did your eyes go? 

1 comment:

  1. So I loved this blog and i'm quite green with envy how well you wrote it. I went to the website and I did skim through it, especially when I got to the lists. I'm not a fan of lists. I feel like they are going to be boring and usually un-useful. My eyes pretty much read the very first paragraph and then I scrolled right through. Maybe I should correct my reading habits.
    This is why business professionals say you only have 30 seconds to get someone's attention. Loved your first blog.