I was in a meeting recently, where other colleagues and I were trying to create an identity for a new company. We talked in circles for a while, in my opinion focusing on how we should do this and that, rather than on whether we should do it. That’s why I said:
“Thumb stopping (“thumb-stopping describes exemplary content, typically viewed on a mobile device, that catches the attention of the user and causes them to stop scrolling”). We can’t convey everything with a motto or a logo. We’re taking it for granted our story will be thumb-stopping and our target audience will stop their scrolling enough to focus on what we’re trying to say when that might not be the case.”
TIME’s What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong explains a bit about what we get wrong about the internet and debunks a few myths. According to Chartbeat (a company that provides real-time data on content consumption) research, a minuscule amount of pieces on the internet are actually seen or read or clicked on.
Analyzing no less than 2 billion visits, they found, “In fact, a stunning 55% spent fewer than 15 seconds actively on a page.”
15 seconds, that’s what most creators get.
As I mentioned in Here’s Why I Quit My New Job After 4 Hours and Didn’t Look Back, I try to consume articles and social media content mindfully. Since these are topics I frequently think about, I spotted a connection between what I read and who it’s coming from.
Why do people not read online?
I have a theory.
People don’t read online because they don’t like disappointment and wasting time.
But Delfina, weren’t you the one to mention how reading is a privilege instead of a chore? How is it a waste of time?!
Yes, that was me, is me. The one factor that makes the difference is the author.
When I first come across someone’s work, there’s a high chance I won’t like it and won’t read it through. Not that my standards are impossibly high, that’s just the way it will presumably go, if the analysis of 2 billion visits means anything.
Chances are I won’t click on it, and if I do, I’ll find it disappointing and stay on the page for 15 seconds max.
This is the reason most people don’t get reactions, interactions, readers. Those first 15 seconds are rarely worth it, so I will not come back, I won’t share your work, I will never think about your lousy piece again.
However, when I see one of my favorite writers has published something new, I will read it no matter what. If Alexandra Franzen or David or Roxane Gay or other writers I like have shared a new piece of their magic with the world, I will read it. Most people download apps (like Pocket or Evernote) to save the work of their favorites to read later. It’s not thumb-stopping, it’s moving, eye-opening.
I haven’t even read the thing yet and I know beforehand it’ll be worth it because these authors haven’t disappointed me or wasted my time.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the expectation should be to always expect eye-opening, heart moving, life-changing pieces from creators. No one can only create masterpieces and that’s a good thing.
The above writers I mentioned have shared things I found just okay, but still, they haven’t disappointed me as a reader in the meaning that they played mind games with their words or shared unnecessary stories or made me read through a clickbait piece.
My readability analysis plugin warns me, “54.5% of the sentences contain more than 20 words, which is more than the recommended maximum of 25%. Try to shorten the sentences.”
Usually, I listen to it and what it gently points me toward. I want my readers to be happy, I want them to enjoy themselves while they’re on my page.
The writers I like have kept their promises, while perfecting their craft, consistently thrilling me, bringing on positive change in me, and making me feel all warm inside.
There are a few things you can do to disappoint readers, and Stephen King has written about most of them in On Writing.
I believe most of them come from a bruised ego, either bad writers who will never accept this is simply not their calling, or good writers too focused on flexing their vocab muscles or sounding smart too actually share anything of value.
We need to know beforehand if our choice to read will be respected and cherished when we decide to give our incredibly precious time and attention to you. When we do, please make it worth our while.
That is why most people don’t read online.