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Jon Hawkins

This Is Why People Are Leaving Your Articles

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Jon Hawkins
Jon Hawkins
 24 days ago

Readers will leave after your introduction if they feel mis-sold to

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As writers, almost all our efforts are aimed towards a specific goal.

We want to attract readers. And we want our message to resonate with as many people as possible.

Some writers will do anything they can to get there. They’ll spend hours reading up on how to hone their craft, or attract the right audience — because they want to reach big numbers.

The problem, which I’m sure you’re already aware, is that anyone, no matter their skill level, can be a writer. It’s why the world of online writing is so saturated and, with so much noise, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out.

Rewind to when I started online writing, and a generic self-help article on how to live better attracted over 10,000 views. If that same article was published today, it would be lost in the abyss of hundreds of articles all presenting the same information.

A well-researched and coherent article used to be enough. But now, that just won’t cut it.

As a result, writers are having to get creative and find innovative ways to stand out. That’s driven positive change — publishers have a pool of higher quality articles to choose from. To remain competitive, articles you see in your favorite newspaper or blogging platform are held to a higher standard than ever before.

On the flip side, however, some writers and publishers are appealing to underhand tactics to attract those readers. According to research, over 63% of Buzzfeed’s articles are clickbait, and up to 40% of political posts on Facebook contain fake news. That’s because their business models rely on getting viewers through the door.

These types of underhand tactics are a great way to attract readers. But they are a sure way to guarantee they will leave before reading past your introduction, and that’s why your read time is low.

You Are Mis-Selling Your Work

Marketers preach the importance of a persuasive title or hook in their introduction. There are online courses worth hundreds of pounds that teach you how to grab someone’s attention.

Most online marketing guides are so focused on attracting readers, they fail to tell you what you’re supposed to do when they arrive. You become the worst dinner host alive. You know how to greet your guests at the door, but forget how to treat them once they're in and settled.

According to Maria Konnikova of The New Yorker, a headline determines exactly how many people will visit your article, and it will impact how people read your article. From your title, readers will infer the article style and content and will bring certain expectations with them when they start reading.

A lot of writers focus heavily on a hard-hitting title but ignore the fact it’s impacting the expectations their readers bring. If their title overpromises something their article doesn’t deliver on, then it’s no surprise that people are leaving.

Cheating your readers

Another thing writing guides conveniently leave out is exactly how far you should go to attract readers. Should you mis-sell your article or employ clickbait if your article stands no chance of getting views otherwise?

The question comes down to integrity, and the sort of writer you want to be. For me, getting readers through the door isn’t the be-all and end-all, because there’s no point attracting readers that don’t care what you have to say.

Adam Audette puts it best:

“Today it’s not about getting the traffic — it’s about getting the targeted and relevant traffic.”

Having one person who wants to read your work is far better than attracting thousands that don’t. Achieving this is simple:

  • Keep your title descriptive, and make sure it gives insight into what your article is about. Avoid clickbait and making false promises.
  • On top of creating a captivating introduction, keep things engaging and the tone constant throughout. Make the article the hook, not just the first paragraph.
  • Make sure your featured title and sub-header match the style of your entire article. Ask yourself, if I saw them what expectations would I have? Do I fulfill them?

Following these steps will reduce the number of people who land on your article, but it will increase the percentage of those who read it. That’s more favorable, because, rather than having a short influx of non-readers, you’ll slowly build up a reliable following that trusts your work.

You're Over-Describing Everything

Why say something in one way, when you could say the same thing with fewer words?

Setting a scene, bringing in an example, or persuasively arguing your case could be an important aspect of an article. Writers have a tendency to overdo things despite it not being absolutely necessary.

It’s called over-describing. It occurs when what you have is sufficient for your purposes, but you keep writing anyway — and that provides no additional value to your readers, but might bore them.

It’s a common mistake made in novel writing, but comes in many different forms:

  • Continuing to use imagery, using adjectives, or decorating a scene, despite it being completely unnecessary
  • Making descriptions, without relating them back to your point or illustrating why doing so was needed
  • Repeating a description, but rewording it slightly differently

Are all common examples of over-description. Unfortunately, according to research, over-describing leaves readers feeling confused. With such short attention spans, your audience is prone to boredom if the important information is buried between long, convoluted, and unnecessary descriptions.

An overabundance of detail could lose a reader's attention. When they are disengaged, you have to work extra hard to recapture their interest.

Keep things simple

Knowing that writers love to overdo their descriptions, Ernest Hemingway regularly wrote letters to editors, students, and fellow artists on how they could improve. These are all compiled in Ernest Hemingway on Writing (1999).

To name a few of his tips, he told fellow writers to:

  1. Use short sentences. He famously adopted a minimalist writing style and tells writers to dispense adjectives and get straight to the point.

2 . Be positive, not negative. Rather than saying what something is not, say what it is. Michel Fortin puts it best:

“Stating what something isn’t can be counterproductive since it is still directing the mind, albeit in the opposite way. If I told you that dental work is painless, for example, you’ll still focus on the word pain in painless.”

3. Use short first paragraphs to prevent readers from leaving before they get to the good stuff.

4. Use rigorous English. Write with focus, intention, and passion.

In following all these steps, Hemingway was able to avoid over-description, and only present the information that was vital for his story. In doing so, readers were much less likely to become bored and leave.

“Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.” — Hemingway

You’re Not Editing Your Articles Enough

According to the New York Times, we naturally learn to write in the same way we speak. So, similar to speaking passionately, when we’re in the flow and writing with speed, it can be difficult to keep things concise.

Because of that, avoiding over-description and achieving Hemingway’s minimalistic writing style can be difficult on the first try. Producing an article is only half the job.

While writing, I often remember the words of Shannon Hale:

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”

It’s rare that anything worthy of your reader's time is produced on the first try. Instead, you need to objectively and critically scrutinize your work.

Without a thorough edit or two, your work is bound to be littered with errors and unnecessarily long words. That makes it harder to extract its important message, which will inevitably leave readers feeling disheartened and alienated.

The 10% rule

To avoid this problem, Matt Lillywhite argues we should put aside our ego, and carefully analyze every single word and phrase in our work. If it’s not absolutely necessary, he states, then it should be removed.

Doing so guarantees that readers are left with an article filled exclusively with information that is useful and they will enjoy it.

In his article, Matt states that to achieve this we should adopt the 10% rule. While editing, we should remove at least 10% of our initial work to make it as economical, direct, and clear as possible. We should do so by playing around with our paragraph options and experimenting with our word and punctuation choices.

Making sure every word provides value to readers, guarantees they won’t leave without finishing what you have to say.

Final Thoughts

The world of online writing is more competitive than ever. With that, writers have become more obsessed with bringing in as many readers as possible.

Unfortunately, a lot of the tactics they use are great at drawing in an audience but terrible at keeping them when they do arrive. As a result, these types of writers find their read-times lower than normal.

  • They’re misselling their article. They overpromise with a clickbait title and introductory hook and then underdeliver.
  • They over-describe their points, making it harder for their audience to get to the gist or find valuable information in their message.
  • They don’t edit anything, leaving their work overly conversational and wordy, and detracting from any value the piece might have.

In avoiding these mistakes, your work will be better received, and you will begin to attract an audience that trusts your work and values what you have to say.

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” — Thomas Jefferson