If “Nobody Reads Online” Why Bother With Content Marketing At All?

If nobody reads online, does that mean all content marketing is a giant waste of time, budget, and energy?Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

You’ve heard it before. And the headline will probably flash across your screen again.

Or perhaps it will come in the form of a comment from a coworker looking to ease your doubt about your latest investment in “content.”

Things didn’t pan out quite the way you anticipated. Or as quickly as you’d hoped. But that’s okay. Nobody reads online anyway.

At face value, it sounds like an easy way to shift the burden of blame for your marketing efforts from you and over to … humanity at large.

Here’s why:

a) That’s not true.

b) Even if it were, it’s not an excuse to skip out on content creation.

People Read Online, But They Do So In Fragments

Firstly, let’s put the “people don’t read online” thing very quickly into its debunked place.

If people didn’t read online, you wouldn’t have made it to this article.

At a minimum — even if this is all you likely did! — you took a quick glance over the headline before clicking onto this story.

QED. (For those who don’t have the trauma of studying law in their pasts, that’s a ridiculous Latin abbreviation that means “see, I proved it yo!”; I use it to lend an aristocratic air to my writing).

User experience (UX) research has proven several times over what many of us know to be true intuitively:

The word by word readers number a paltry 16%. The rest of us scan.

Now don’t we all read-by-scanning? Yes, actually.

You may have seen some interesting online experiments in which researchers deliberately jumbled up the inner letters of words. You may have noted, with surprise, that for the most part the sentences were readable.

But click into Matt Davis’s page above. Or rather scan it.

As he describes rather interestingly, the “humans can read with jumbled letters” experiment can also be debunked — to an extent. What works for short words doesn’t necessarily translate well for cumbersome multi-syllable ones.

So are we all perhaps just information scanners with the attention spans of goldfish?

Perhaps. But it actually means little to suggest that content marketing (and inbound in general) isn’t a potentially fertile source of lead generation worth investing in.

People Come Online Looking For Answers. They Scan In Order To Find Them.

Now here’s the difference between me and the aforementioned sources who went to the trouble of backing up what they wrote with research. I didn’t.

This is all off the cuff. It’s my … Theory of the Internet.

And it goes like this.

The vast majority of internet users do not use the internet “for fun”.

They may use the internet because they’re procrastinating or bored (see: social media addiction).

But although they exist in number, the majority of internet users aren’t gamers. The majority of internet users go beyond the confines of digital life when they’re looking to … engage in leisure.

They go to bars. Kayak. They may bring their phones with them — in fact they almost inevitably do. But they’re not in hunting mode. Which means that from a marketing perspective they’re far less likely to be the type of high-intent leads we really want to be talking to.

So who does that leave us with on the internet?

Who are those who’re trying to lure into our funnels with content marketing (and steer down them)?

Deceptively cold and self-serving human beings who take to the internet primarily to try to solve issues that exists in their lives.

They got problems. They need fixes. We can all relate to that.

For the most part, humans aren’t interested in affirming positive experiences.

Most humans I would contend are happy to take whatever positive experiences they can muster from life and cling to the warmth of that positivity.

It’s the same reason why if you make the mistake of turning to Doctor Google you’re much more likely to find horror stories than positive ones.

Those who didn’t experience the nightmare-two-year-long-withdrawal-from-Zoloft just aren’t as motivated to put up a blog affirming that on the internet.

“My content marketing was great!” probably doesn’t rank very high as a Google search term. Nor does “it’s a great sunny day!”.

Rather, when we’re in action mode — and those are precisely the type of searchers we should be courting — our bias often tends to skew negative.

We want to hone in on our pain points in order to eradicate them. So that our life can be better. Even by a small and incremental degree.

Therefore we type things into Google as if it were a sort of omniscient friend — an oracle of sorts — always at the ready to dispense some wisdom.

Sometimes — or wait, is that just me? — we do this for hours at a time.

It’s kind of like a fireside chat with a search engine in which we tell it what’s on our minds and hope it will spit back resources from the vast potpourri of information that’s out there on the internet.

When we’re in this kind of mood, we do things like type:

  • How much money do product marketing managers make?
  • How can I land more freelance clients?
  • What’s the average temperature in Jerusalem in September?

In content marketing, our central job is to try to capture that inbound stream of curiosity–and question-asking — and try to create resources that will not only helpfully answer them (this part is key) but also gently coax them to seeing us as the logical solution.

You Need To Provide Value — Whether They Scan Or Ready Methodically

So here’s what I would say in response to the “nobody reads so content marketing is a waste of money” allegation. Besides “that’s not true.” Because that doesn’t get us very far. It’s this:

It doesn’t really matter.

However your target audience engages with your content, your job is to structure it in a way that provides value and focuses on encouraging them to see you as the most logical solution to whatever problem brought them onto your site in the first place.

That’s the one-two punch that should be an elementary skill in content marketing. Even if like many elementary skills in writing it actually takes years to get truly good at.

And the good news? The method works irrespective of whether your audience reads every single elegant word of your latest white paper or whether they just skim through a video or blog post.

It’s also your job to pander to the tastes of your audience.

If skimming is what they like, skimming should be what you facilitate:

  • Provide TL;DR summaries at the end of your articles
  • Provide estimated reading times at the start of the articles so that prospective readers know how much attention they might need to set aside
  • If you’re creating video content, make sure to include timestamps in the description so that views can jump to the sections that interest them
  • Spin out audio and video versions of your content marketing to make it as easy as possible for your potential audience to connect with your content

People read online. They just read differently.

In content marketing, our job is to focus on providing value independent of who the prospect ends up buying from.

But because we’re in business to sell and everybody’s got rent to pay we’ll ultimately be trying to position ourselves as the most logical solution.

That’s about all there is too it.

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Daniel Rosehill

Daniel Rosehill

Daytime: writing for other people. Nighttime: writing for me. Or the other way round. Enjoys: Linux, tech, beer, random things. https://www.danielrosehill.com