Reader Myths: You Should Stop Believing These 4 Things

Steven2 responsesBlogging
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Back in the days when there were only a handful of blogs and before everybody was perpetually connected to the Internet, it was possible to gather a few statistics and make some educated assumptions about online reader habits. But now? Now there are millions of people reading blogs every day. I think it’s time to admit that it’s no longer possible to compartmentalize online readers.

Myth #1: Online Readers Only Scan Your Content

Yes, online readers will only scan your content if it’s presented in a scannable format. But you read blogs every day that use good old-fashioned writing skills to get the message across to the reader. These bloggers know how to use language and grammar to present engaging content, and their readers read every word of every paragraph.

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We assume that readers want scannable content because the statistics show they only spend a few seconds on a page. But how much longer would they stay if they were actually served something meaty enough to sink their teeth into?

Myth #2: Online Readers Prefer Short Posts

Again, we assume online readers want short posts because statistics show they only stay on your blog for about 90 seconds. But statistics also show that long posts are some of the most popular content – if they’re well-written. The problem is many bloggers find it difficult to stay on topic when they write longer posts and this is what drives the reader off the page. It’s not the fact that it’s a long post, it’s that fact that the long post is poorly written.

Myth #3: Online Readers Want Simple Language

Over the years statistics have shown that the average online reader reads and comprehends at an eighth grade level. But you know yourself that not everyone falls into the “average” category. What about those readers who enjoy a good 14-syllable word? I know I do.

This myth also ties in with the idea that readers want scannable content. If the words are one-syllable and easy to understand, then the reader won’t be distracted or challenged in any way. But what better way to make your message memorable than to write something that requires the reader to actually think about what he just read?

Myth #4: Online Readers Need To Be Hooked

According to statistics, online readers need to be “hooked”, and hooked immediately, or they’re going to leave your blog. But if you’ve read this far then you can see that’s not true. There is no hook in the opening paragraph of this post. It’s just good writing that kept you reading.

There’s also the idea that you have to promise your reader some benefit in your title and in your opening paragraph if you want to hook him in. Again, I promised no benefits anywhere in this post and you’re still here.

If that’s not enough, look at the millions and millions of blogs on the Internet. The highest ranking blogs don’t abuse sensationalism to draw the reader in. They don’t have to. They’ve established a reputation for quality and that’s what keeps the reader on the page. The writing is good and the reader already knows he’ll find value, so he doesn’t need to be tricked into reading.

I think many of the online reader myths originated because early bloggers weren’t necessarily great writers, they just wanted to connect with readers. For them, it was easier to use simple language and lots of formatting, short posts and manipulative content because they weren’t writers. They were bloggers who enjoyed communicating, but that didn’t make them good writers. And I think we’ve made the mistake of assuming this is what readers wanted because, at the time, that’s all there was to choose from.

But online readers, bloggers, and even blogging in general, have all evolved over the years and everyone is much more savvy and knowledgeable. I think it’s time to retire these myths that date back to the dawn of blogging and start blogging for our own individual readers, not the mythical “one online reader” whose reading habits were shaped by early bloggers. Kudos to those early bloggers for breaking the ground and building the foundation. But now it’s time to take blogging to the next level.

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  1. Dispelling some major league myths here Steven ;) Hooked…..hmmm…I think people stick around if they vibe with your content. This means that no, they need not be hooked, to stick around.

    One other myth; you need to go heavy on content and light on advertising to prosper online as a blogging newbie. Not totally true. Yes, go heavy on content but you darn well better monetize your blog from Day 1 if you want to make money online, you need to condition your readers to respond to your ads, from the beginning!

    Thanks for sharing!


  2. Venkatesh Iyer

    Nice to read a post that reflects suspicions I have held in my heart for a long time. I always wonder just how much credibility should be given to the “one-size-fits-all” preachings of gurus (this has become a repulsive word for me). I do think issues such as blog length and reader scanning will differ for different blogs, different authors, different contexts, different topics, etc.

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