Don’t Let Your Blog Readers
Touch that Remote

image of a woman with a remote control

You remember the last time you channel surfed? We all do it when there’s nothing good on TV — nothing that holds our attention.

Well, you can’t channel surf with a book. You can skip pages, put the book down, or stare off into space, but that book isn’t changing (unless you have something to write with or a pair of scissors in hand).

That gives the book power. The book controls how you pay attention to it, in a way television can’t.

Because of the links in hypertext, web content is vulnerable, just like television, to channel surfing.

Your content doesn’t have the final say in how it’s structured, because the user chooses which web pages to visit, and what order to visit them. One web page doesn’t necessarily demand her attention all at once.

Your blog is a lot like a television channel, except the net has more channels than cable (meaning there’s lots more competition). You have very little time to make a good impression, keep your reader hooked, and direct her to your call to action. Your reader’s mouse is a remote control, and the instant you lose her attention, she’ll channel surf away.

You have to fight that remote

Anne Mangen, an academic who studies how people read digital texts, explains:

“A click with the mouse immediately changes the visual input so that our attentional focus can be maintained. Thus, our urge to click and the consequent impatient mode of reading can be at least partly explained by reference to psychobiologically hardwired dispositions of ours.”

In simpler terms, channel surfing taps into our innate instinct to change the scenery the moment we get bored. Unfortunately for you, that training translates to the web.

Your reader’s mouse (your blog’s remote control) puts millions of web pages at her fingertips. And that trains her to get bored more easily with your content.

So you need to write and design in a way that will keep your reader so engaged that any urges to click will have to wait until she finishes your beloved content first.

10 ways to make your blog channel-surf-proof

Here are ten helpful ways to keep your reader’s hands off that remote:

  1. Give your reader the low-down right at the start. Think about the most popular TV channels. Their content either gives them away in the first few seconds (as being a source for news, celebrity gossip, cooking, nature), or their branding tells the story for them (big-money dramas and sitcoms, mainstream news, Leno). The viewer always knows what to expect. Make sure your brand is just as clear. Your reader always needs to know just what she’s here for.
  2. Don’t sound like a chimp. When professionals goof up on TV, it’s easy to gloss over it and follow their next move. But when typos glare at your reader, she’s wondering if she’s on the right channel.
  3. Make sure your blog has more to offer than the most recent programming (your last blog post, testimonials page, or sales pitch). That way, you can entice a little internal channel surfing, to the rest of your great content. Ditch the old school reverse-chronological style, and design your blog architecture so that your readers have plenty of cool stuff to do.
  4. Keep your programming fresh by writing magnetic headlines, using compelling pictures, and appealing to your readers’ emotions.
  5. Keep your writing simple, fast-paced, and dramatic. The final season of “Lost” will attract a lot more viewers than a public access channel featuring lectures from dull, verbose professors.
  6. Keep the flow logical. If your plot doesn’t make sense, your blog reader will change to a program that does. So go over all of your transitions and self-edit, edit, edit.
  7. Offer cookies to your reader so she has a reason to stick around.
  8. Don’t follow the lead of TV commercials. (Your reader is too smart to fall for those anyway.) If you’re going to engage your reader’s insecurities, make sure it’s to offer a solution and mobilize her for success. It’s ok to use a little pain in your copywriting, but do it in an honest and win-win way.
  9. Think carefully before you put up ads. Will they add to or detract from the attraction value of your channel? And don’t let excessive ads clutter up your site. The only clutter you find on TV is in the bedroom of a so-called “reality” star.
  10. If you have to take commercial breaks (by embedding advertisements, affiliate links, and/or endorsements in content), at least make them infomercials. That is, make them informative, short, and humorous if you can — then get right back to the scheduled programming.

Don’t give up

You have to fight hard for your air time, because as a blog owner you deal in hypertext, which grants your reader tremendous control over what she consumes. She’ll leave the minute she gets bored, so do everything you can to keep her engaged.

Battling that remote forces you to become a better messenger. When you get it right, the connection you make with your readers can be immediate and powerful in ways that aren’t possible with a book or television.

If you’ve got more ways to keep your readers away from your blog’s remote control — share them in the comments below!

About the Author: Melissa Karnaze writes about the intelligence of emotions on Mindful Construct and Twitter.

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Comments

  1. It is true that “battling the remote” helps to be a better messenger. I have been trying to beef up my blog’s brand as of late. I wrote a post about recrafting my tagline and was surprised to receive engaged comments and tons of email on it. Maybe I had a call to action or maybe I hit a nerve?

    I think many bloggers are working on defining themselves in order to keep sustained interest!

  2. This is advice I need to take to heart. I tend to meander around and take forever to get to the point. It’s not so bad when I’m using it as a tool to tell a humorous story, but I think it’s one of the reasons I’m not as effective as I could be when I want to inform people and get them to do stuff for me.

  3. One of my pet peeves when I’m websurfing is the blog post that immediately starts playing loud music. I understand that the poster is probably trying to create a mood, but it’s such a turnoff for me that I immediately leave the site (usually without even reading the post).

    I think that you’ve a good list of tips here to help bloggers and writers retain online readers. Thanks for sharing this information.

  4. Great ideas for maximizing eyeballs on the blog. Keeping to the plot and keeping it streamlined are important, especially in business based blogging.

    Your “Lost” example can cut the other way as well. When Lost stared meandering around a few seasons back and the core plot was becoming “muddy”, people started changing the channel and not coming back. Once they got back on track, viewership skyrocketed again. The same holds true for a blog with a theme.

    Rob – LexiConn

  5. I found your points about advertising interesting. I recently read something on Smashing Magazine saying that most readers are obvious to advertisements anyway.

    If ads take away from the visual appeal of a webpage, most readers will just find another page that isn’t littered with ads.

    Giving your reader a quick preview of what is coming in your intro paragraph should be a standard writing habit; at least, that’s what we were taught to do in school…

  6. The points are asually useful,insightful for bloggers above all i liked the message of the post , that thought of yours and presentation are exceptional.And minimalistic blog design will also help in making the content top priority.

  7. Our innate urge to “channel surf” is one of the main reasons longer posts don’t get the recognition they deserve. Bloggers and readers are “scanners”. We look for what’s relevant to us, process it and move on. So, getting the reader’s attention quickly with a knockout headline or a slam dunk first few lines in your opening paragraph are vital. The “read full story” option isn’t bad either. After you’ve hooked ‘em with the headline and great first paragraph, we can’t help but read the rest…Curiosity is also deeply engrained in most of us.

  8. @Lydia, that’s great how making one tweak to help orient your readers makes a big difference!

    @Tracy, blogging has this subtle way of training you to be more assertive. :)

    @Laura, that’s a really good point. Music is a big turn-off to many readers. Especially music that you can’t turn off in the browser!

    @Blake, yeah, it’s really hard for me to stay on sites where the ads are taking over the content. It sends a certain message.

    @Rob, I remember when Lost was starting to lose me too. I was watching it on DVD though so that helped, since I didn’t have commercials to think about whether I wanted to finish the episode.

    A friend of mine told me that elements of Lost’s plot were based on foraging behavior… to “reward” viewers with dramatic content at certain times, and then to relapse into “down” time for as long as they could get away with. To mimic the natural highs and lows that come with foraging in the wild… Someday I hope to locate that study. He said it applies to many video games as well.

    @kalyan, yes, minimalist design can really help if it works for your blog’s theme.

    @Roschelle, it’s sad to me that the web has trained me to skip most articles I come by. It’s now instinct for me to move on when I can tell that the article isn’t making an effort to keep me there. Sometimes, I try to fight that instinct and scan just a bit longer in hopes that there will be a surprise at the end.

    But what I’ve found is that following Copyblogger advice for your writing isn’t just about keeping your reader distracted from the remote — it’s about becoming a better communicator, and keeping the message lean. That’s hard to do, but when you do it, your message gets better, because you can take it to the next level, since it’s not cluttered down by unimportant information.

  9. Hey Melissa,

    Remarkable content + irresistible presentation + simple and involving design = huge reader stickiness.

    Just like a channel with an amazing show, impeccable visual presentation, and simple but enticing promos for more cool stuff after the show will keep the viewer from touching that remote, the above will keep readers from clicking that blog remote.

    Nice simple and useful tips,
    Oleg

  10. nice article as usual. I like the correlation of channel surfing, good comparison. That’s probably one of the most wise of learned skills is to keep them from channel surfing.
    thanks again.

  11. The irony is that it’s difficult for me to read this whole post. Had I not wanted to post this comment, I would have “changed the channel” by now, so to speak. :-)

    What makes this an irony is that it’s a GOOD post with some great points. But the post failed to keep me interested in reading.

  12. I agree with Laura about the music being a turnoff. The video that starts automatically is another problem for me, especially if it is preceded with a commercial!

  13. I learned some new things reading this and it triggered some ideas.

  14. Climber_Seeker :

    This is some good reading material Melissa. I have just added to my understanding of copywritting.

  15. @Oleg, interesting distinction between touching the remote and clicking it, thanks for sharing.

    @Rohit, as much as you work to fight that remote, it’s no guarantee that *everyone* will stay on your show or channel. Sometimes, people just aren’t in the mood, are distracted, or something else is going on. So you keep at it to fix whatever’s on your end.

    What do you think made it easy for your mind to wander when trying to finish this post? :)

    @Joe, yeah, preceding anything with a commercial that doesn’t entertain or provide value (that makes it worth it), or at least tuck into the bottom fold so that it doesn’t detract from the content, is a bad idea!

  16. I can’t argue against any of these points, because I’m not yet paying the rent from blogging.

    I can say that my data supports slightly different conclusions. I tend to write long walls of text… and my traffic is good, my time on site is good, and for as much as I’m pushing the newsletter (basically, not at all), that’s not bad either.

    However, and I think this is key: BORING copy of any length drives readers away.

    Most blog posts seems to make the assumption “Readers are too busy to read.” So most people don’t read them.

    I make a different assumption: My stuff has enough value that readers will block out the time to read more carefully. And they seem to be doing just that.

    Obviously, I’m screening out certain readers, but I’m also screening in other readers. Smart ones. I try very hard to make it worth their while.

    But smart people spend money too.

    And I very often embed an offer somewhere in the article.

    In any case, I’m using many of these suggestions in long copy, and will roll in more of them.

    As far as cookies go, I’m probably giving away the cake!

  17. Oddly, I had a similar reaction to this post as you did, Rohit, even though I thought it is an interesting topic delivered in a captivating way. I honestly think it might be that same phenomenon as reading an article about the contagiousness of yawning. If you’re like me, just reading about it makes you yawn! Right from the get-go with this post, I felt that itchy trigger finger feeling like I was racing to get through for no apparent reason…

    Plus, the whole time I was reading, I was thinking to myself, “When’s she gonna mention ads?” Because I think for some of us, we know our readership separates into two groups: those who belong on our site and just might become part of the family, and those who need a quick fix that I’m not willing to provide. For the latter, I want nothing more than for them to have a channel changer right in front of their eyes in the form of an ad. My hope is that through powerful headlines and provocative content, those of the first group will be drawn away from the channel changer (which is out of view once I’ve kept them for a couple of sentences). Maybe this is a naive and overly-greedy strategy?

  18. @Dave, I for one was glad that Melissa didn’t give the shopworn advice “don’t write too long,” as, like you, I haven’t found that to be accurate. I think you can be “simple, fast-paced and dramatic” without going short. (Not that short’s necessarily bad either. Works for Godin, but he’s a master at getting giant ideas into a single paragraph.)

    @Chloe, if it works for you, then that’s the only justification you need! On many blogs it seems to me that ads are either visual noise or, in some cases with Adsense, they’re pulling your readers off to a competitor, so you lose a $20 sale and make a nickel in compensation. But ads are a big topic, worthy of more posts down the line.

  19. @Rohit – I scanned as well, saw all my hot button topics, worked out a comment, then rescanned it and read a couple of parts in more detail.

    I’ve seen all these truisms elsewhere, I speed read anyway, so it was a really fast scan.

    Like I said, I can’t really argue against any of them, but when everyone follows the same rules, what’s the USP?

    @Chloe, if I may, there is “screening out” and “screening in.” Most people focus on NOT screening out. I try to focus on screening in.

  20. @Sonia –

    EXACTLY!

    Long copy can sell, and sell big big big.

    And short copy takes time to write too!

    Several months ago I tried to reverse engineer Godin. I gave it up. Decided I needed more writing experience to figure it out.

    Personally, I’m waging my war against BORING web pages. Of any length.

  21. I think that is the right war to be waging, personally!

  22. Dave, thanks for the advice. Really well put, and I completely feel you. It’s way too early for me to be settled in a monetization strategy – my teensy blog is a newborn! But I have a strong feeling that within the next year, I’ll revisit this post and these ideas and think about things very differently. Your sentiment is where I want to be for my dream blog. The honest truth is that my first stab is only a test niche that will determine if I have what it takes to make even a small supplemental income and so, if I have the time to be a blogger because I’m already addicted…

    Melissa, I loved the idea of “internal channel surfing” and you did a great job of demonstrating the technique! It took every ounce of willpower I have (which isn’t much but…) not to click out from a sentence like: “Don’t sound like a chimp.” I knew just what post that link would take me to and I knew I didn’t need to read it but the URGE! You had me laughing at myself LOL

  23. Melissa, to the extent your article has generated discussion, I’d have to say you hit home run!

  24. Thanks for this article Melissa. Exactly what I need. Been thinking about ways to make my blogposts “sticky.” Your tips certainly hit home for me. :)

  25. Great article…I like the analogy and it really hits home! “Will they add or detract from your site” is one of the more important points I take from the article!

  26. @Dave, I don’t think every blogger should follow all the same rules, but there are some universal ones that work across the board. There’s going to be a unique audience for your blog that has unique needs. For instance, some readerships need more than 2-3 posts per day, others can’t handle more than 2-3 per week, due to a more involved subject matter like personal development.

    My stuff has enough value that readers will block out the time to read more carefully. And they seem to be doing just that.

    Great to hear that it’s working for you Dave. I work to cover the basics mentioned above (like headlining first and foremost), so I can write from that same space. It’s a fine balance to strike between accomodating your reader and also keeping your confidence.

    @Chloe, lol @the URGE. So by alerting you to your remote control, it actually backfired and made it harder for you to finish the article! Thanks for that honest feedback, I didn’t predict that would happen. :P

    Because I think for some of us, we know our readership separates into two groups: those who belong on our site and just might become part of the family, and those who need a quick fix that I’m not willing to provide.

    I think that’s a great blogger-boundary to have Chloe. It’s easy to put up quick fix stuff because it’s really popular on the web (and offline too). But it’s more rewarding to create a family, or if you can, a village, as Sonia says. Very interesting way to frame using ads as an easy exit for quick-fix seekers!

  27. I love how you’ve used remote control methodology to convey great tips to manage a blog. Thanks for all these wonderful tips!

  28. Really interesting post that didn’t make me reach for the remote (so to speak), thanks Melissa. Your post is crammed which such useful information all writers can use not just those that blog. Top 10 lists are always more digestible and act as tick lists, which is perfect to ensure we cover all bases. Look forward to reading more from you.

  29. Excellent article. I tried using “Click Tale” recently to see how users view pages (only the free version as it costs mega bucks). It is quite interesting to see how readers skim read looking for the bare facts. And frustrating to see them NOT play the video slide shows that took many hours to put together.

    The reader definitely has the power so any way we can help guide them has to be good.

  30. One of the thing in your post which really helpful is internal channel surfing. Yes this is the way through which you can keep them for longer period.

    One thing which I really like about television Soap is they end one day episode in such a way and at such position which forced people to come again to see what happened after that … if you have any idea about this than please suggest … or if not than think about this …

  31. Copyblogger is my new favorite place. It’s talking about all the problems I know my project has. I’m starting an online and perhaps quarterly print magazine that should be incredibly interesting – its about sex and humor and all the fun things in life – but the website and the writing just aren’t syncing up with the vision – they are pretty boring and I can’t even get my friends to tune in. Hopefully following the oodles of advice on this site – both the articles and the great comments by users – will head me in a better direction. I know one day my site and content will be incredibly awesome, I’m just realizing it takes actual work to get it there!! (PS if anyone wants to pick apart my project and give feedback its getcatnip.com)

  32. These are some great tips I will definitely put to use right away. I’m always cooking up 10 draft posts at a time so I will have to go back over them to make sure they are as good as they can be

    Thanks!

  33. According to Sky and Virgin Media, they are adding more ADS into your face! Well… most of the time, it gets me frustrated, as I have to wait for my show!

    Dang!

  34. Excellent post. I need all the advice I can get as far as keeping readers interested goes, particularly when I’m forced to write on dry topics.

  35. I’ve been struggling with “how” or “if” I want to add ads to my blog post. I’ve been afraid of the very things you list in your post.

    Also, I’m going to pay closer attention to how my articles and blog ‘flow’.

    Thanks for this good post.

  36. Isn’t there just some javascript to disable the mouse? :)

  37. I agree with this post especially for the fact that I am a channel surfer as well as can be a blog surfer. If I begin reading a blog and don’t immediatley find something interesting about it I will often move on. It could be a joke that interests me, a piece of information I never heard before, or it can just simply give me the information I need and that right to the point effect will interest me in reading more about it. This post was very helpful for those who want to make there blogs more appealing to people. It shed light on the truth that if it isn’t interesting people won’t read it. It gave some great tips to us bloggers.

  38. The reader definitely has the power so any way we can help guide them has to be good.

    Thanks for this good post.