How Long Do People Spend Reading Websites?

Stephen_1 (1)You have ten seconds to grow or burn your business.

That’s 20 seconds less than your perfect elevator pitch. 

It’s roughly the amount of time you can expect to keep someone’s eyes on your content.

By the way, those ten seconds are already up. That’s a lot of pressure, but don’t worry you’re about to learn concrete ways to make those ten seconds count.

Two weeks ago, we gave you the broad strokes to go from blank screen to purposeful, valuable content. Today, we’ll get into how to create content that matters with all natural, free-range numbers and research. By the end of this post, you’ll have the insight you need to make data-driven decisions about what to write.

Lead with Your Best Content

Now, back to that ten seconds. Chao Liu and others from Microsoft Research analyzed how long people stay on web pages. After looking at around 2 billion dwell times, they discovered that your customer’s time on your website follows a negative Weibull distribution. The Weibull curve started in the manufacturing world as a way of predicting when parts would fail. One way to think of is that the longer a blade is in a lawnmower, the more likely it is to dull, rust, and break.

Liu and the team found out that, unlike a lawnmower, the longer people are on your site, the better it works. Their findings look like this:

After only five seconds on a web page, there is an almost infinite chance that your customer is going to leave. By the crucial ten seconds, infinity has dropped to 3%. By 40 seconds, your customer has an equal chance of staying for another two minutes.

What all that lawnmower science means is that you need to lead with your best. In our last post, we started with purpose as the key to everything you do, and value clocking  in at a close second. If you write without knowing where you want to take someone (your email sign-up, a product demo, a donation to your non-profit), they will leave. If you aren’t immediately telling readers the unique value of your website, they will leave. 

Remember, in face-to-face conversations, it’s rude to walk away when you get bored, but no such rule exists for the Internet. You don’t have to pretend to see an old college roommate to get out of reading a website.

However, like a face-to-face conversation, no one shows up to just hear about you. Give them something for themselves, something valuable, something reassuring, and give it to them fast. You are exactly what your ideal customer or donor needs to solve problems and save the world; don’t be afraid to tell them that, right away.

Determine what is Valuable to Your Readers

So how do you know—or find out—what is valuable to the people landing on your website? Think about what you do and for whom you do it. Try to immerse yourself so completely in their needs, wants, and interests that you become one of your customers. Tommy Walker from Crazy Egg put it best: “The best way to resonate with a market is to become a reflection of it’s ideal self.” 

As soon as you think you know what your clients want, make a list of those wants. Update it and argue with it often.  Continue to prove or rework your original assumptions. This helps keep your content focused on providing tangible value. I don’t have a fancy research department at my disposal, but because I want to know if this content is valuable to you, I want you to email me and tell me what you think. Ask your customers to do the same thing about your content, your services, or your impact in the community. 

Don’t just collect that data like an information black hole. Respond to it. Respond to your customers. Create a conversation. Don’t let the screen fool you, we’re all still here to have a conversation. The best way to have a great conversation? Be a great listener.

Easy to Read; Easy to Trust

The Internet has changed the way we read. One reason readers are so quick to leave before the ten-second mark is that they have encountered so many bad web pages in the past. They’ve had their hearts broken and aren’t sure if they are ready to love a web page again. Don’t go around breaking hearts.

Don’t try to trick people into finding your website just to get page views.

Do show people what you have to offer that no one else does.

Don’t try get people to sign up for things they don’t want or need.

Do teach people the valuable things they need to know to make the best decision. When you’re honest, people take notice, and are more willing to follow where you lead.

The emotional scars of spammy websites lead to lots of skimming. Nielsen and Nieman are pretty sure people only read 20% of what you wrote. When someone lands on your website, they are looking for something. It could be an existing customer looking for a new solution, it could be a future customer who doesn’t yet know that you are the answer to their needs, or it could be someone who landed on your website and wants nothing to do with you. If you’ve convinced them to stay beyond those infamous ten seconds, people start skimming to find what they really need.

This is where your headers come in; this is where you bold the important and invigorating ideas that you want people to read. You owe it to your readers to make these headers both exciting and useful. They have plenty of other things to do with their time—they don’t need you standing in their way, and you wouldn’t want to be responsible for people leaving would you?

Here are the Big Takeaways

Today you have gotten some of the numbers that back up our belief in purposeful, valuable, conversational, actionable writing. You now know you have only ten seconds to get people to stay on your web page, and from there, you have a maximum of two minutes to get them to act. Making your content clearly navigable is essential, and is just good Internet manners; it shows respect for your reader’s valuable time. Accept that they’ll only read 20% of what you wrote, so make sure the most valuable parts stand out to your readers. All these things are pieces of a good SEO strategy, which we will talk about in the next post.

You’ve Got This

Go take a look at the content you have so far. See how it fits in with these ideas. Have you said something important and direct in those first ten seconds? Are you writing as a “reflection of [your customer’s] ideal self?” Keep focusing on purpose, value, conversation, and action.

Check out the Hemingway, ( it’s the app I used to determine when I had used up my ten seconds on this post). It does a great job of showing how readable your content is. AKA, it tells you whether you’re getting in the way of your customers getting stuff done.

Finally, tell us what else you need to get started writing the best content for your brand. We’re writing these to help, and we want to know what works for you. 

Ask Us Anything

If you have questions or comments about anything you read from us, let us know! We'll get you an answer promptly. (No sales pitch involved, we want to help.)

Written by Stephen Krauska. Last Updated 9 years ago.
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