How to write for an audience that likes to snack.

Snacks for your online audienceBack in the early days of the web we followed the lead of traditional media.

Newspaper editors favored long, detailed articles with maybe one or two images.

We did much the same. Except back in the days before broadband, we took it easy on the images. They took too long to download onto the page.

Even with the arrival of broadband we still focused on using a ton of text. Why? Because that’s how we caught Google’s attention. We wrote long articles and posts, included a few keywords and waited for a flood of readers.

Well, things have changed since then.

Google doesn’t look kindly on keyword stuffing or any other kind of manipulation of their algorithms. But they still like a fair amount of text and, with the Hummingbird update, are now finding meaning in our text without having to rely so much on individual keywords.

But while Google still smiles on long-form posts and articles, there is another force at play.

The other force to reckon with is our audience and their changing viewing habits. Our readers are becoming increasingly unlikely to stick around and read long blocks of text. While Google may still favor long text pages, many of our readers don’t.

Yes, this will all depend somewhat on your topic and audience. But for the most part our site visitors are enjoying and becoming accustomed to smaller bites of content. Instead of wanting to sit down and read a long post, they would prefer to snack.

Everyone thought Twitter was nuts when it launched with its 140 character maximum. But while they may not be the biggest, fastest-growing social media platform, they did get one thing right. They anticipated that people would develop a taste for very short-form content.

You can “consume” a tweet quickly. You can quickly view and share a short video on Periscope or Meerkat. You can cast your eyes over images on Pinterest or Instagram.

As you can see, much of this snacking takes place not on traditional, content-rich websites, but on social media.

And, hand-in-hand with that shift away from long-form web pages, people are accessing their nibbles more through their smartphones than through their desktop or laptop computers.

One sentence. An image. A video or animated GIF that last a few minutes or seconds.

This is the kind of content more and more people are looking for. It’s certainly the kind of content people are the most likely to share.

So how does this impact those of us who write content for websites and blogs? How can we make our long-form content attractive to snackers and nibblers?

First, do what we have always done when writing for the web – write shorter sentences and paragraphs and use plenty of subheads and lists. In other words, while we may have over 1,000 words on the page, it shouldn’t look that way. It should look like a collection of small bites which, when combined, becomes the full meal.

Also, use more images than you are used to. The folks at Buzzsumo did a study on the proportion of text to images that resulted in the most frequently shared online content. Their finding? One image for every 100 words. Or 10 images for a page with 1,000 words.

That sounds like a lot. But that is where “shareability is at”.

You may not be able to go that far. But if you want to hold people’s attention and have them share your content, you should be moving in that direction.

If you have trouble understanding why people would want that many images, try reading your latest post on your smartphone. If each screen is just a long block of text, your post will have to be insanely good to keep people reading.

Another way to look at this is to create your long-form content as if it were being viewed on a smartphone one screen at a time – showing one image and some short text. Or a video clip and some short text. Or a chart or diagram and some short text.

In other words, optimize all your content for mobile. Then post it to your website.

The rise in social media and the move from desktop machines to smartphones is putting pressure on web content writers to make some big changes.

If you are among the first to make these changes, you’ll win. If not, you’ll lose.

[Yes, I know this post breaks every rule I have just shared. Like most other site owners, I have some old habits to break!]


A related resource:

popcorn content  how to write social media content

Popcorn Content – The craft of writing short-form content for social media.

Writing for social media is a whole new craft. Social media streams move quickly, so you have to hook your readers fast. But you also need to listen attentively…all of the time. And you have to engage with people.

This, my latest book, teaches you how to write this critically important type of content.

Popcorn Content is available on your Kindle, or the Kindle App for your computer or smartphone, for just $6.45.

Learn more about Popcorn Content

About the author: Nick Usborne is an online writer, copywriter, author and coach.

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1 thought on “How to write for an audience that likes to snack.

  1. Nick, I can confirm from my own experiences of web writing that all you say is true. Stripping down articles into short ‘bursts’ of text is an art all contemporary web-facing writers must learn. *insert picture of owl*.

    I’m not trying to be smart when I say this because I feel sure you would agree, this format is having an unwelcome side-effect:

    Consumers are being taught to take in details without questioning them. As ‘articles’ are increasingly replaced with short mouthfuls of info, so much context is lost.

    The Guardian newspaper’s award-winning TV ad from 1986 illustrates this perfectly: – email me if the link doesn’t work in your country!

    I struggle to find a solution to this challenge.

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