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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Keep your programming fresh by writing magnetic headlines, using compelling pictures, and appealing to your readers’ emotions.
- 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.
- 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.
- Offer cookies to your reader so she has a reason to stick around.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!