Gauge Your Audience: Are You Over-Estimating Your Readers?
Maybe it’s because I write for a client in the Make Money Online niche or maybe it’s because I read so many other MMO blogs for research purposes, but whatever the reason, I’m getting tired of the “Quantity vs Quality” debate. On 51 percent of the flips the coin lands with “Quality” facing up, and I think it’s causing bloggers to over-deliver – in a bad way. I think we’re all guilty of over-estimating our audiences and, as a result, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.
Let’s start with some statistics:
- The average Internet reader reads at an 8th grade level.
- Reading levels are calculated based on word recognition, reading speed, and comprehension and retention
- The average Internet reader comprehends and retains only 60 percent of what he reads
- The average Internet reader reads 200 words per minute
- The average Internet reader spends 97 seconds on your blog
From the statistics we can deduce the following:
Assuming you’re writing your article at an 8th grade level and it’s perfectly formatted for online reading, the average Internet reader will only read approximately 400 words, and of those 400 he’ll only understand and retain 240 words – regardless of the length of your article and regardless of how much valuable information it’s filled with.
Why do readers come to your blog?
I think it’s safe to assume that every blogger on the planet understands the value of organic traffic and the first-time visitor. If that first-time visitor weren’t so important, then why do we bother focusing on keywords?
Readers, especially first-time visitors, come to your blog looking for the answer to one question, the question they typed into their search engine. According to statistics, you have, at most, 97 seconds and 400 words to give him that answer or he’s outta there. And remember, he’s really only going to comprehend 240 of those 400 words, so you really have to be concise and get to the point.
We’re over-estimating our audience’s needs and capabilities
In response to Google’s demands for quality over quantity, and their insistence on link building, more and more bloggers seem to be crafting posts that are way too long and contain too much information.
- They’re packed with more information the the reader is really looking for.
- They’re packed with more information than the reader can read in his 97 seconds on the site.
- They’re packed with more information than the reader can absorb and comprehend.
- They’re packed with so many self-serving internal and outward-bound links the whole page is blue.
In addition, these new-style mile-long posts also have one other thing in common: Most are poor-quality ramblings, haphazardly written because the blogger is also still trying to account for the “quantity” in the equation. He’s still posting at the same frequency, only now he’s doing two or three times the work on each post and in the end it really doesn’t matter because his visitor won’t read the whole article and will only retain a little more than half of what he does read.
What’s the solution?
I’ve been reading through the archives at Problogger and in 2004 and 2005 he was publishing at least five blog posts a day. At that time Darren Rowse was already a full-time, successful blogger and guess what – some of his posts were less than two dozen words long. I found one that was only 17 words. His entire content for one day typically didn’t exceed 2,000 words, shorter than some of the mile-long posts I’m seeing, and he’s one of the most successful bloggers on the Internet.
Each post gave one answer to one question. If more information was required, Rowse broke down the longer posts and turned them into a series of posts so the reader could easily absorb the information at his own pace. Not only does this provide additional value for the reader because he’s able to comprehend your message, but it helps increase subscriptions.
Of course, you’re going to raise you hand and say, “Yes, Ms. Donna, but times have changed. Google wants those mile-long posts with all those links.”
My response to you is: “Do they really? Because Google has never said anything about post length. And who cares, anyway? Are you writing for the search engines or are you writing for your readers?”
Readers online reading habits haven’t changed. If your readers, especially your first-time readers, aren’t gaining any value from your mile-long posts, then you’re not doing your job. Your job is to provide the useful, valuable information the reader wants, not pander to the search engines.
And here’s something else to think about: We all complain about the gut-wrenching time we put into these mile-long posts and then complain some more when our readers don’t follow our advice. But maybe it’s because they didn’t absorb that advice because the message was too long.
Assuming that out visitors will stay on our blogs longer if our articles take more time to read is the wrong way to look at it. We need to tailor our content to meet that 97-second, 400/240 word requirement so we can make sure they get our message.
By shortening your posts you’ll be creating content that your readers will actually be able to understand and put to use, which makes you look like a true expert. As an additional benefit, you’ll be able to publish more content, faster, increasing your page views and page rank. Stop over-estimating your audience and everybody wins.
And by the way, I realize this post is almost 1,000 words long, but I’ve been following Dukeo for a long time, now. I know you guys are a lot smarter than the average reader!
Donna Anderson is a freelance writer specializing in the MMO niche and politics, of all things. Go figure, huh? Visit her mash-up blog at C2CWriter.
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