Clicks and bounces, engagement and open rates — these days it seems we need to take a course in terminology alone in order to make it in the online world. That’s because the truth of the matter is, people are busy, and so content, and especially content for the web, has had to come up with a whole new set of words to accommodate for the changing habits of readers. In fact, an average reader may spend only approximately 15 seconds on any given web page, and that’s assuming what they’ve clicked on is an article that actually aligns with a topic about which they’re interested in reading.
Of course, short attention spans don’t mean the readers aren’t there at all, just waiting to be interested in what you’re publishing. On the contrary, the average adult in the United States spends about 5 hours and 16 minutes per day with digital media. So if that’s the case – that the readers are there but don’t bother to spend a ton of time reading any given one thing – then it stands to reason that posting short, to-the-point nuggets of easily digestible information is the best way to go when it comes to your content, right?
Well, that’s right and wrong.
Long-form stories have a special place in the world of content. In fact, they’ve gained their own fan following on Twitter (check out #longreads to see what we mean), and Google “long reads” to watch millions of options come up, providing you with a plethora of long stories from dozens of sites like The Daily Beast, Tumblr, Digg, The Guardian and more.
Not to mention the site devoted entirely to long read articles, aptly named Longreads.com.
So it appears, after all, that there is an audience just dying to read your 1,500+ word content. (Case in point: Buzzfeed recently published the 6,000+ word story, “Why I Bought a House in Detroit for $500”, which received more than a million page views, with 47 percent of those coming from people reading on their mobile devices.) Why, then, can’t you seem to get them to stick? Consider for starters, one brilliantly easy trick used by Longreads, which is to provide the reader with an estimated reading time and word count for each article.
Providing readers with an estimated amount of time they’ll be investing in a story is integral in allowing them to determine whether they have the time to read a given piece now, or if bookmarking the page and coming back to it when they are a bit more free is the better option — this as opposed to having them scroll down what feels to be a never-ending page, getting frustrating and just deciding to bag it. Also keep in mind here that technology is making it increasingly easier for readers to keep track of pieces they don’t have the time to read now, and to pick them back up easily when a better opportunity presents itself. Pocket and Instapaper are good examples of tools that help readers save articles, videos, etc. from their browser or apps to read later – sometimes even when they don’t have an internet connection.
Whether you go with the slower but equally as accurate math-by-hand way of figuring out an estimated reading time for your content (the average adult tends to read between 200 and 250 words per minute), use a plugin, or one of the many online calculators available to do the math for you (Read-O-Meter, for example, if a good one), in the end it seems the benefits could far outweigh the time it takes to add this bit of information to pieces.