Do you know why book stores are closing at a frightening pace? Because people don’t read books anymore. They say they do, but overruns on actual books are killing publishers… and distributors and stores.

It’s a sad fact but what does it have to do with my website/blog content? Everything, because it’s a trend a savvy businessperson will heed—consumers aren’t reading!

This isn’t a condemnation of digital devices. I love them! But I also love reading. It was my love of reading that led me to the love of writing… and the realization that I needed to edit myself more and more. Some experts claim people only finish 65% of an article, and then only if it was really interesting; anything over 300 words is a waste of valuable space and effort. It’s not the rule but it’s a growing factor in content creation and how humans continue to communicate.

Brevity is the soul of wit. ~ William Shakespeare

How non-reading affects all of us

Non-reading? Is that a good term for it? Maybe that’s a bit too far but we must return to the matter at hand: developing your website to reach the lowest common denominator while not alienating other followers and prospects.

I could post lots of opinions and studies that say people are reading less, but does anyone really disagree? (Tell us in the comments section.) Let’s just assume, for the sake of this side of the argument, that there is a dire need to make things “comprehension friendly” in all of your communication materials.

Have you ever heard of “The Elevator Speech”? It’s how you would sell your business to someone as they travel the average 60-90 seconds in an elevator. Why under two minutes? Because that is the time we have to capture their attention in our sales pitch, and most people can’t focus for more than 90 seconds. So… what’s on the front page of your website?

How much do you tell the casual visitor in the hope that it will convert them into a customer? I’ve seen 300-word introductions that tell us exactly what the site owner does. I’ve also seen life stories spilled out in a rambling rant. Some people believe it “humanizes” them in the eyes of potential clients. It does… which is why they get bored and zone out to what you’re saying in written content. How do you communicate if people won’t read your sales pitch?

Brevity is a great charm of eloquence. ~ Cicero

Dumbing it down

Yet another questionable label for meeting the interests of the masses. Remember the fuss over the single-page website? A brilliant solution to foster simplicity, but not every website can get away with that, or so I’m always told. Well, the next step is following the reduction prompted by text-speak and tweet-length.

How about one of those walk-on videos where I can explain what I do? How often have you sat through one of those without clicking off the presentation? What’s the option? Reading the material? What is it people will read or watch?

It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book—what other men do not say in whole books. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Speak in sound bytes

If you haven’t paid attention to the political scene around the world or had any heated debates with others on the subject, then you aren’t on Facebook enough! If you know what I mean, then you know how people love to quote talking points. It’s those little sound bytes we hear on certain news broadcasts and humor monologues on late night shows. This is how people are speaking and absorbing information. Videos over a minute and a half won’t get as many hits as videos under a minute. Get right to the point!

A recent client wanted a growing list of something or the other, fed to people who were ready to take on the project, making them read five… no, ten… maybe 20 reasons they should want this product. My advice was not to take seven pages to sell them on what they already want. The client felt that more is better and the product will sound more important, surrounded by flowery copy. I gather after he slept on it, he realized that too much is just that. When it comes to words, stating the same thing over and over does not give the illusion of quality content. You keep people’s attention by being short and to the point. In a way, you’re respecting people’s precious time and, when it comes to reading, their patience.

Be sincere, be brief, be seated. ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

Repeating yourself

It’s important to respect the time-taken and willingness to read what you have to say. It’s like when I’m asked to review a designer’s or illustrator’s portfolio. I have to stop them from going into long descriptions of each sample piece. I usually hold up my hand to signal they should halt speaking and I continue looking at their book. When I’m done looking at the entire book, seeing if there’s a leave-behind piece and/or the proper identification of who the designer or illustrator is and how to contact him or her, I explain to the teary-eyed, nervous wreck of a creative standing in front of me, that I merely wanted to see how much their portfolio spoke for itself.

That seems to be an alien concept to most graduating art school seniors as well as many professionals. Even with the advent of digital slide shows, short and sweet is always better. Less samples but better ones make a more memorable book. Think in terms of a child’s bedtime book vs. the novel Moby Dick. The bedtime book is over in ten minutes, the child is asleep and the purpose is fulfilled—sleep time is sold! With Moby Dick, it’s over 800 pages of allegory for a simple message spoken in the first 20 pages anyway. When selling yourself, don’t be a Moby Dick!

That writer does the most, who gives his reader the most knowledge, and takes from him the least time.”~ Charles Caleb Colton

Doy, duh, doy, doy!

When I write, I use a handy app that rates among other content elements, how “good” and article is by the reading level. Apparently anything over an 8th grade reading level loses points for “readability.” That’s frightening. It’s also reality. More students in college but none of them can read at a college level?

When I was in art school, I had an advertising teacher who spoke of “hot” and “cool” media. “Hot media” is an interaction of the user where the user didn’t have to participate much more than just having to be present to observe. “Cool media” on the other end, is reading. You are fully involved with creating the interaction. We are in the age of “magma media.”

This isn’t to say communication is dead. Use less to sell more, but use more to close that sale. When dealing in a creative brief, contract, or email updates, stay transparent and overly complete ad nauseam. I guess, if I had to end this article quickly, and to give a little gem to those who read on this far, rely on people’s imagination to sell creative points but don’t trust the subtleties of language when you’re communicating your point to someone else.

If you can’t write your idea on the back of my calling card, you don’t have a clear idea. ~ David Belasco

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