Just today, I was having a discussion on ADN about how there’s too much noise on the Internet and if I had the choice of a broadcast medium, I’d go with newspapers. Some time after that, I noticed the link to an interesting article on Slate about how people are not reading entire articles on the Internet and are just skimming through, or even just reading the headline, and tweeting the link if they like the headline or an eye-catching photo.
At this point, it’s my duty to inform you that this is a post about Social media, sharing, reading on the Internet and is a bit of a rant, so if you’re not interested, you’ve already left the article. I’d also like to tell you that I wanted to name the article – “Dealing with loss, of Readers” but that seemed rather grim and I wanted to mimic the Slate headline, because it’s just that good. There’s another reason that I’ll tell you later about.
I’ve said it before that people who share an article without any context and with just a headline and a link are doing an enormous disservice to their followers and even to the article they’re sharing. I frequently block or mute such people just because I know they’ve not read the article they’re sharing and thus, it’s an irrelevant article. Most people have a thing or two to say about something they read. Others, like me, even write entire blog posts about them. But in general, the article shows that people are just not reading much on the Internet and that there is no healthy correlation between people who are sharing and people who are finishing the articles. Learning something from the article, I’ve come up with some dos for people who just want their posts to get shared a lot and some for those who want their articles to be read completely even if by a much smaller audience. So, here goes –
For Sharing-Lovers –
The article clearly states that most people across the Internet will not scroll your article beyond what they can see. So,
1. Keep sharing on the top. Keep your sharing options in a nice little box on the top, so people can quickly share and be done with it. You can even keep it on the side as Slate does it, so that if someone finally reads something interesting and decides to share the article, they can quickly share the article without having to go to the top.
2. Have a nice headline. Some people don’t even need to open your article to share it. If they see a good headline, they’ll share it. “You won’t finish this article” is a great headline! It’s catchy, it’s quick and it mocks you. That’s why I wanted to emulate the Slate headline instead of using my own.
3. Get a pic at the top and make it a good one. People love pics. They get a feel for the article by looking at the pic. If you run a WordPress blog, I must insist that you get a plugin called Compfight. Even if you don’t, you can use their website to quickly search for interesting Creative Commons pics on Flickr for your blog. That way, no matter what your topic, you’ve got a pic related to the ideas you want to convey in there.
4. Your best words on the top. God forbid someone actually reads your article, make sure your juiciest text is at the top, where people can read it and really find the article interesting. Don’t make it incoherent while trying to make it awesome, that would counteract the effects of the awesomeness.
Now, to take care of the people who want to have a smaller segment of well-meaning readers who actually read your work –
1. Format your blog better. No matter how awesome you think your site looks, there might be things you might be overlooking. If you don’t understand how to design blogs for your readers, learn something from Matt. You might really want to have a broad blog or loads of widgets on the side, but that’s not they way anyone likes to read. Get rid of the clutter and make it look better, for your readers’ sake. My own blog is ripe for disruption. I need to make the margin much more narrow so that people can read without having to move their eyes from one end of the screen to the other. That just fatigues readers.
2. Your words are King and images are the Rook. Just because you don’t like posting images (like me), doesn’t mean you can ignore them. Images add context just as well as a well-formed paragraph does. If you didn’t get the reference in the point, a Rook in Chess is one of the stronger pieces, even able to protect your King in times of need. So, you need to read point 3 above and get that plugin. Incidentally, I need to do that too. By the way, this blog post about a visit to North Korea is an excellent example of how images and text work wonderfully together.
3. Keep the sharing, but at the bottom. People love to share. People who care about things love to share them with context. You cannot forget the power of sharing but if you only want to attract a certain crowd, you can keep the sharing buttons at the bottom, ensuring that only people who read the entire thing share it.
4. Write, but write shorter. When I started writing this blog post, I decided I’ll keep it near or under the One thousand words range. I’ve seen blogs that are massive and don’t need to be. I’ve seen blogs that are really short and really famous because of that. Find your sweet spot and stick to it. You won’t get much help from your readers there, as you don’t know how much of your posts they’re reading. It’s not like we can all afford to pay Chartbeat’s $10 a month to monitor our readers and they don’t really understand what Free means. But a general rule of thumb is that your ideas should be conveyed to your readers in a couple of paragraphs and you should stick to one topic. This post is definitely not an example of this point. I could easily have spun off this thing into two posts, but I chose to keep it all in one and make it long, thus decreasing the chances of anyone reading it till the bottom.
Finally, if someone does reach the bottom, any good blog should reward them. The Slate article rewarded people with a very cool link about a very common print catchphrase. I’m going to reward you by asking you one question – in that Slate article, wouldn’t it look cooler if instead of the static image at the top, it was a GIF or a Vine of a woman sharing the article just after opening the tab?