How to Accommodate Online Readers and Grab Their Attention

Writing for online readers is distinctly different than traditional writing; this means your online content must cater to these readers to grab and keep their attention. For most of your readers, online reading takes longer. At least, your readers feel like it does. Eye strain also happens much faster when staring at a computer screen.

Typical habits of online readers that help shape your writing include the following:

  • Scanning information rather than reading it word-for-word
  • Reading from left to right
  • Looking at information on the top half of the page
  • Searching for headlines, keywords and bold text

What you write and how you present it affects your success in grabbing the attention of online readers. You have roughly three seconds to capture a reader’s attention. Three seconds. To make the most of that time, do the following:

  • Write with scanning in mind.
  • Consider your audience.
  • Create user-driven narratives.
  • Condense and combine.
  • Take into account reading levels and literacy.

Write with scanning in mind

Writing for the web requires a constant focus on creating content that is easily scanned. The human brain naturally skips around and scans online. Readers on the internet typically scan your content first. This allows them to decide if it’s worth sticking around to read more in-depth. A few principles help keep content that is scan friendly:

  • Left placement of keywords and action words in titles, subheadings and sentences
  • Keyword rich titles, headings and subheadings
  • Bulleted or numbered lists
  • Bold text
  • Simple language
  • Chunked content

Consider your audience

Write with your specific audience in mind. While knowing the intended audience when you’re a paid writer at or a similar site isn’t always possible, you can identify at least some specifics about who might find what you write of value. This is true for all types of writing for the web. For any audience, create online content to accomplish three things with respect to the intended audience:

  1. Stay engaging.
  2. Stay relevant.
  3. Stay appropriate.

Think about potential users and benefits to them when writing product descriptions. Determine who might benefit from the advice in a blog. Examine the types of consumers that might use a buying guide for specific products. For any specific format, personalize your content to the intended audience to make the biggest impact.

For example, writing a product description for a professional office desk with a hip, energetic and youthful tone is probably less appealing to the targeted consumer. If you’re writing a description for a new line of stylish youth clothing, that same tone becomes appropriate.

Take the demographics of your online readers into consideration whenever possible. Focus on thinking about the age, profession and gender of those likely to read your content.

Create user-driven narratives

Web content of any type must in some way support your reader’s personal stories, goals or needs. You’re condensing large amounts of information into a piece of content that offers that support. This makes a user-driven narrative a necessity. Never write a single sentence that doesn’t offer value to your readers. Make it about them and for them, not just about selling a product or gaining a new follower.

Condense and combine

Most online readers are on a specific mission with a specific goal in mind, and those reading your content are probably not any different. Finding your content is often done through search. Online readers want content that is actionable; you want to give it to them. Condense and combine information to keep it concise, to the point and oriented toward reader goals and needs.

Take into account reading levels and literacy

Reading and literacy levels of your online readers are important considerations. It’s your job to ensure what you write makes sense to as large of an audience as possible. Comprehension across the board matters. While your intended audience might influence the reading level of your writing, it doesn’t always. Strive to write in clear, simple language.

This lets readers of all reading, literacy and comprehension levels have access to and find value in the online content you write. Short sentences and paragraphs are an important component of writing with these elements in mind.

Writing for an online audience involves making sure readers can easily find, read, scan and find value in the information that matters. When they can, you provide a quick path to putting that information into action – whatever that action might be.