Readers Want to Skim; If Not, They Skip
Very few content creators go into a piece of writing with the notion, “I hope readers skim this piece!” But, in fact, that’s exactly what you want them to do.
The binary isn’t between whether readers will skim your article or read it in its entirety; it’s whether they will skim it or skip it altogether.
And thus becomes one of the primary purposes of developing effective content for marketing purposes: the skim. Facilitate that, and you will earn the readers’ trust, interest and engagement. That initial skim, therefore, becomes the introduction to you, your expertise and the subject matter of the discrete piece of thought leadership. It is the portal into a deeper relationship between the author and reader.
The skim is the invitation to delve deeper. Without it, you’re risking the dreaded skip.
How to Use Skimmability to Further Engage the Reader
People are busy. They are easily distractible. They are being hard-wired by social media and a multimedia universe to have shorter attention spans. You are competing with everything, at every millisecond, for the attention of an audience. Step one is NOT to get the reader to immerse themselves into your chosen topic. Step one, on the contrary, is to get them to skim.
WHAT’S YOUR HOOK?
The first five seconds are critical. Fail to capture the attention of a scrolling or otherwise distracted reader and you will have lost your opportunity to influence that audience member forever. All of that writing, all of that expertise…gone in an instant. The dreaded skip!
There are two primary components to hooking a potential skimmer into your content funnel:
1 – Is your headline engaging?
Your headline has to immediately convey to a particular and distinct audience why your article is important and relevant to them. Why stop the scroll? What will be gained if I do? It needs to resonate with urgency. Anything less is an invitation to skip.
2 – Is your open an invitation to skim, or are you burying the lede?
Too often, writers reflexively withhold the a-ha moment for the dramatic close. The chief takeaway must lead your article, not recap it. If you can’t pay off your headline within the first 10 seconds of the reader’s investment in it, the reader will bounce (skip), and there will be nothing taken away other than a lasting impression that you wasted the readers’s time.
WHAT’S YOUR MAGNET?
A typical reader’s default inclination is to hit the back button. Get back to LinkedIn…delete the email newsletter…move onto another interest or priority. You must construct your article in a way that facilitates deeper investment. The goal here is to convert that initial 25-second investment (The Hook) into a 90-second session.
As a tradeoff for their time and attention, readers will be looking for reasons to linger. Will the problem be solved? Is this piece a mere marketing message disguised as a blog? Are their immediatly actionable insights to be gleaned?
Create visual landmarks that facilitate a skim all the way to the bottom of the piece:
1 – Use headings throughout.
Break up your paragraphs with enticing headers that serve both as visual landmarks for the eyeball to moor to and advance ahead, rather than allowing them to drift off into a homogenous sea of ennui. Headers re-invite a reader to resist waning interest and stay more deeply invested in the article’s value proposition. (They also serve as useful SEO “juice” for the search engine spiders crawling your site.)
2 – Employ bullet points and numbering.
Any presentation of text that doesn’t present as a long-winded paragraph provides another valuable invitation to skim. Remember, your first goal is to earn the skim…not present the argument in full. Bullet points and numbers are additional visual cues to the reader that content is being served up in digestible chunks, allowing the reader to maximize the efficiency of however much time they choose to invest in your piece.
WHAT’S YOUR CATALYST?
The closing section should pay off the promise your Hook made at the outset. Remember that claim your article made at the open, as to why the piece was important and why the reader should care? Deliver on it in Act III.
1 – List the takeaways.
Give the reader three to five action items to implement right away to start chipping away at the challenge or opportunity your article examines.
2 – Close on a high note.
Believe it not, your final paragraph is more likely to be read by skimmers than much of the middle. Readers want to skip ahead to the big payoff they presume your saving up (the best for last). They figure you’ll summarize the most important points at the end, as we were taught way back in grade school. (Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, then tell them what you said.) Use this opportunity to echo The Hook, provide meaningful guidance on the provided action steps in The Magnet, or to offer the skimmer something next to do, read, watch or consider as The Catalyst to further the relationship.
Now That They’ve Skimmed, Skip Back to the Beginning
If you’ve gotten the reader this far — fully skimmed from top to bottom — it’s highly likely that you have, by then, earned his or her trust, attention, consideration and even intrigue. An effectively skimmable piece of thought leadership will provide that conduit to that next important step in the reader-audience relationship.
No, this is not when the reader calls you and demands to hire you on the spot (typically speaking). This is when the reader has taken enough value away from the initial skim that they begin to read the fuller piece more closely and deeply.
NOTE: This does not mean, necessarily, that the reader will start at the beginning and run through the piece in its entirety. What’s more likely is that the reader will continue to skip around, looking for nuggets of wisdom they missed on the initial skim. This is when full paragraphs get considered, digested and analyzed.
Milk the Skims!
If you’re lucky, the skim begets a read. The read plants a seed. The seed germinates into a reputation. That reputation is what begets consideration down the road when an opportunity arises for you to be on the short list of potential service providers.
But, remember, the alternative to a skim is not a word-for-word deep-dive study…
IT’S A SKIP.
Be honest…you skimmed this article, didn’t you?
Tom Nixon helps professionals turn their expertise into new business opportunities. Connect with Tom on LinkedIn.