Visuals, Word Count and Tone–Oh My! Optimum Word Count and How Freelance Writers Keep Reader Attention

mediaIn the past 20 minutes how many pages did you click on before you landed on this article? How long will the average person who lands on this article stay to read part–or all of it?

As a business looking to publish content, understanding the audience’s attention span is key. Our society looks for entertainment and does not have the attention span to appreciate long-winded articles unless they are really digging in to a specific topic. Information isn’t absorbed if it isn’t read, and today’s average browser reads a surprisingly low amount and is distracted easily.

The Visually Attracted

By now you have probably noticed the images on this page—the average reader’s brain processes an image 60,000 times faster than text, according to a WebDAM infographic on marketing statistics.

A Changing Number

Have you ever noticed the difference between old and new cartoons? Even just 20 years ago, cartoons were slower and more deliberate. Consider an early Bugs Bunny in the Case of the Missing Hare animated by Ken Harris in 1942 and how it would compare with today’s animations for kids. Perhaps we adults are sentimental, but kids today who are used to the fast-paced mayhem of their cartoons are often bored by the older ones.

According to the Main Street Analyst and Red Rocket Media:

  • The average attention span has gone down from 12 to 8 seconds
  • 1 out of 5 page views lasted 4 seconds in 2012
  • A typical visitor only reads 20% of the page content at a rate of 200 words per minute

Let Your Freelance Writers Take Off!

A range of article lengths may be to your advantage.

SerpIQ examines the top 10 pages that came up for 20,000 keywords and found that the top 10 pages contained more than 2,000 words, with the top 3 closer to 2,400-2,500. Inbound links are important for SEO and Moz found that higher word count got more links when examining their 500 most popular blog posts.

Quick Sprout found that Twitter and Facebook users were more likely to post and share longer articles than shorter ones. Articles that were longer than 1500 words received 68% more Twitter shares and 23% more Facebook likes than those that were less than 1500 words.

Articles for newsletters, however, should be short excerpts to encourage click-through, according to Curata. In the “Curation Habits Report 2012,” Curata found that 150-1,200 characters were the perfect length for piquing reader interest and receiving click-through traffic.

How Long Is Too Long?

If the average reader only reads a fraction of the page, but is more likely to share long articles, then how you break up your articles is important. Page layout should be efficient, clean and non-distracting to keep the reader engaged, photos should be included to help the reader understand quickly and stay engaged, headers, bullets and highlighted text can also be used to help keep your reader from feeling bored with the text.

Alethea M is a corporate blogging guru and freelance writer for WriterAccess. She often uses interesting facts from her article research to impress friends at dinner parties. Her husband is her biggest fan — though this may be because her writing income allows her to share in bill-paying each month.


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