Here’s why your content doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

The takeaway to this article? Readers don’t decide to block off 5–10 minutes of dedicated attention to read your stuff. They are constantly paying micro-attention to bits of your content, evaluating how soon they can stop reading and move on to something else.

It’s managing micro-attention that makes or breaks your content performance.

 

Micro-attention needs a micro-solution

Micro-attention consists of the small but critical transactions that occur as the fickle reader skims your content. Each moment hangs in the balance as the reader decides to stay on your site for a few more eye scans, or succumbs to the pull of the rest of the internet. Or the pull of real life, because let’s face it: no one is reading your carefully honed wordsmithing in a quiet library. Instead, your readers are bringing the noise of modern life into the reading experience of your content.

For modern websites, reader distraction is digital death by 1000 cuts. This article examines the myriad forces that drive distraction, how traditional macro-level strategies like great content and great design are insufficient, and how to leverage the Asym micro-typography platform to win readers’ attention on a level that has never been possible before.

 

Overview

Let’s uncover the real enemies to content performance.

  1. The first enemy is the mobile experience. Mobile isn’t your friend because of both environmental noise and device noise.
  2. The second enemy is digital optionality. Indirect competitors are your greatest competition.
  3. The third enemy is content and its downward spiral.

The solution to these problems? Read on.

 

Mobile—panacea or perfect storm?

Your content is no doubt great, but chances are that half of your audience is reading it on a mobile device. Strike One. Mobile readers are harder to engage – fewer page views and shorter dwell times are par for the course with mobile.

Yes, mobile changed everything ten years ago as phones became smart and took on new roles. Where before phones were used to make calls, smartphones morphed into opportunities for personal messaging, group messaging, email, social apps, browsing the web, shopping, games, and generally a perfect storm of distraction.

Smartphones made people accessible. You can now deliver your content to them at any place and any time. But engagement seems to correlate strongly with the size of the device. So it is true that there are millions of users right now on their devices who could be reached by your content.at this very moment wherever they might be. But how much of their real attention – the deep consumption of your message – do you really have? Probably not as much as you think. More likely you have their shallow attention as they multitask on their pocket- and purse-sized distraction device. Studies show that even when reading on a desktop computer just having your phone on and within reach is a distraction to productivity.

Environmental Noise

Part of the problem is environmental noise – your mobile audience is reading in line, standing or walking on the street, in that boring meeting, while watching another screen, at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, with screaming kids . . . you get the idea. Yes social media helps you reach a wider audience, but social media (and society) can rip audience attention away from your content.

woman distracted by social media

 

Device Noise

The other side of the coin is device noise. How many notifications arrived during your 7 minute Medium post? Maybe the reader just remembered to write that work email they forgot about. Or received an actual phone call that takes over the entire screen (some people still take calls on their phone). Mobile audiences are attractive to publishers for the same reason mobile audiences are unattractive: they are easy to get (and equally easy to lose).

social media distractions

Mobile audiences are attractive to publishers for the same reason mobile audiences are unattractive: they are easy to get (and equally easy to lose)

Facebook recognizes the role of this factor and has limited how often publishers can have breaking news. Audiences have developed “fatigue with urgency” and Facebook knows this is bad for business. If Facebook sees user attention as a finite resource to be protected for its own ends, then everyone who competes against Facebook – and this is everyone who puts out content they want read – needs to consider the intrinsic value of attention.

Attention is being monetized – sometimes just a glance or a few seconds at at time. Devices and their apps now push urgency via notifications, banners, and badges. These often encourage if not demand interaction – preferably now – pulling away readers’ attention. Commodity or resource, attention is how many ad-supported businesses drive revenue. Attention isn’t free. Consumers have only so much time, patience, or interest. And they have many options where to spend it.

 

Optionality

The optionality of modern consumption is Strike Two. Optionality is about the siren call of other apps, or surfing to another topic, or clicking / swiping away to the next ephemeral experience. Reflect on your own mobile consumption habits and ask how often you stick with the destination you just clicked on? Do other options intrude and pull you away from your original content?

Do you think your readers behave differently?

On any mobile device (or any non-mobile device for that matter), spontaneity wrecks havoc on reader engagement. Because as easy as it was to get to your content, it is just as easy to get somewhere else. How easy? Intentionally or accidentally, a click, a swipe, or an idle scroll is all it takes. The rest of the internet lurks uncomfortably near. Your audience is just one or two gestures away from becoming someone else’s audience.

distracting trending media

Your audience is just one or two gestures away from becoming someone else’s audience.

 

Disposability

The disposability of so much content on the web is Strike Three. It can be tough for your quality content to surface when readers are deluged with disposable content constantly throughout the day. Disposable content exists because many publishers make the mistake of optimizing for shallow attention. The reasoning is clear: if we just had the audience scale of Google or Facebook, think how much reach and revenue would follow. This leads to wars of attention among providers, struggling to compel more clicks at any cost. The strategies are often short term, and use humor, salaciousness, or outright misinformation to compel the click. This industry practice even has its own (infamous) name: clickbait.

The problem is worse on mobile because mobile audiences are prone to treating mobile experiences as temporary. If you are “killing time” on your phone throughout the day, it changes your mindset and your relationship with the information you view through that mobile porthole to the internet. The phone screen becomes a place of amusements and disposable actions. And that affects how your readers frame the content they encounter. There is a good chance your mobile reader expects to be interrupted while reading your content. Not a good frame to drive the performance of your content.

There is a good chance your mobile reader expects to be interrupted while reading your content.

 

The pervasive damage of disposable content

The problem with creating disposable content as a business strategy is that, let’s face it, publishers don’t have the reach of Facebook and Google. Clickbait has consequences – namely shifting your audience even more into this shallow mode of consumption and devaluing your brand. By treating your audience’s attention as a cheap commodity, you cheapen your relationship with them. Your influence, trust, and perception of quality suffers. Sure, you won their attention for 60 seconds. But is this what your really want as a publisher? Why prefer eyeball quantity over eyeball quality? Why prefer shallow attention readers over deeply engaged readers who might read the next article and return again tomorrow?

It’s understandably attractive – clicks and page views are easy enough to measure and are concrete. But trying to scale your way to success via short term solutions devalues the internet. Content providers and content consumers both share a responsibility here. We’ve done this to ourselves as a society. By creating more and more information as providers we’ve created too much information, too many options for the reader. Studies show that consumers react poorly when confronted with too many choices. How do they react with nearly infinite choice? By having shallow, superficial relationships with content. This quickly spirals into a content ecosystem where it’s a race to the bottom and the results are shorter attention spans.

 

Solving the attention problem

How do you reach a mostly mobile, definitely distracted audience with infinite choice and a disposable-information mindset?


Of course, there are common solutions based on macro-level strategy:

  • Great Content: Stand out from the competition with content that’s useful for your audience. Rather than providing content that’s brand-centric, provide content that’s user-centric.
  • Great Design: Design for people who skim rather than read. Use Gestalt principles to help your readers spot key ideas and group information into separate, easy to understand chunks. Readers spend less time trying to understand your content and more time using or acting on it.

While these are fantastic approaches and solve genuine problems of information design, they don’t address the catastrophic issue of fractured attention. How can we go beyond these well-worn paths?

How do you defeat death by 1000 cuts? Go small. The best way to solve micro problems is with micro solutions.

antman, representing a micro solution to a micro problem

 

Micro-chunking—the secret to Asym

What can be done on a macro level can also be done on a micro level. Technology now exists that allows companies to do automated information design at the sentence level. Asym, our micro-typography platform, is a novel solution for the emerging economy driven by micro-attention. It’s a win for the reader and a win for the publisher.

Much as a skilled orator uses pauses to effectively group ideas together, Asym cloud-based software can instantly insert subtle differences to the spacing between words. These variable spaces between words provide visual cues that guide readers’ eyes and indicate which words belong together and which words are separate.

Justlikewordspacingmakesstringsofletterseasiertoread, asymmetrical spacing helps make multi-word chunks easier to read. Rather than the reader working hard to evaluate the importance of each and every word, these cues provide just enough asymmetry to draw micro-attention to the most valuable parts of your content. The end result is content is easier to understand.

Easy to understand content reduces cognitive load, which can help you either retain the reader just a little longer or more efficiently transfer your message from page to brain before you lose the reader. The message is noticed, perceived, and remembered better. Text becomes more engaging. If your audience is poisoned with information overload, deeper comprehension – even of just a few words at a time – is the best antidote to transient attention.

Asym is the only automated, scalable tool you can use to optimize your site for micro-attention. The principles have been around for more than 60 years, but we are the first to bring to market the technology required to apply it in real-time to digital text. We started with research-based text optimization that reduces cognitive load. Over the past three years we’ve honed that optimization over a wide variety of edge and corner cases. We deliver text that has been proven time and time again to increase concrete actions such as add-to-cart transactions, deeper average page depth, more repeat visitors, more shared content, and other high-impact metrics that drive revenue and improve your bottom line.

 

More of a good thing

Your audience’s attention is valuable. We know your attention is as well. We developed Asym to be as lightweight and easy-to-implement as possible so you can increase content performance without having to dedicate extensive time or resources.

As a technology company we recognize that providers and consumers are locked in an attentional tug of war and that this situation will only get worse. We do our own part to combat the core problem by helping companies retain precious audience attention. We’re also hopeful that by highlighting the forces that shape modern content consumption, both readers and providers will examine where their own habits and practices contribute to making the ecosystem more shallow. Enabling deeper understanding on the web is good thing.

Thanks for reading

 

Chris, Ken, & Edward

 

Antman pic: by https://www.flickr.com/people/28277470@N05/ – https://www.flickr.com/photos/28277470@N05/19671958442/in/dateposted/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44379583

 

Innovative technology without the FB hidden cost

Turning content into money can be a challenging proposition. It’s a noisy world filled with other companies trying to turn their content into money. How to get your content to surface above the noise and get noticed?

While we all agree people stare at their screens (including us), there is absolutely no guarantee they will actually pay attention to it or act on it. We’ve all experienced scrolling onto some really great content and thinking to ourselves “what a good idea,” then scrolling on and completely forgetting the original content. This typical scenario illustrates the difficulty in getting messages to go from the screen to the brain, and actually stay there.

To land customers and actually get an ROI on content, companies rely on pushing content onto screens. That is about ¼ of the battle. Getting the content out there is the easy part. Getting that content to stick is the challenge.

The perils of modern reading

To describe this very directly, getting your content from the screen into your viewers heads ain’t easy.

Attention transactions matter

It’s comforting to believe once your content is published, readers “just download” your carefully crafted message into their brains with 100% fidelity like a copy and paste. But modern reading environments are tough: noisy, frequently mobile, and often multiscreen. We all know multitasking is bad, yet we all do it because our modern devices and technology make it so easy. And today’s readers have fleeting attention spans that are just few swipes or clicks away from someone else’s content. Alerts, notifications, and breaking news are roadside hazards for your delivering your message. In the space between your published content and readers’ brains there’s a lot of room for information loss and message degradation. How to help your message get through?

The standard approach

Facebook does a great job of getting your content onto screens in front of people. It acts as technology that exists between you and your customers, and helps you get those customers. The events of that past months make the not-so-hidden cost is pretty clear. To get your content in front of people Facebook demands you place your content onto their platforms, where it happily exists as a data vampire, feeding on your content and making money selling and reselling your data.

 

tweet complaining about Facebook Data Breach

 

We don’t do that. Like Facebook we are technology that exists between your and your customers, but the similarities end there. Our approach keeps your content on your platforms. Our technology facilitates getting the message from the screen to your customers heads by making it easier to scan and remember information. And because we use a small (micro) charge per attention exchange as our business model, our interests are aligned. We succeed when your consumers read more.

Make it stick

Our innovative microtypography uses cues based on neuroscience to help get messages from screens to your customers’ brains. It makes messages sticky. There is no simpler way to put it.

 

Asym makes ideas stick better

 

It’s easy to get into the weeds here and dive into intricate details, but a 30,000 ft view of our technology looks like this.

Our team is stacked. We have a PhD in neuroscience who is a leading expert in word and letter recognition. Using a cutting-edge ingenious approach to visually group words  into chunks, he was able to identify the exact locations in text where readers’ eyes need cues in order to separate high-value and low-value sections of text.

Working with an ex-Google (and ex-YouTube, ex-eBay, and ex-PayPal) engineer, together they were able to deliver this cue-enhancing text chunking via a fast API to digital text. In approximately 60 milliseconds, the typography of every line on your page can be optimized for typical human reading patterns.

Readers scan and skim quicker, parse the document into sensible blocks of ideas, and retain those ideas more successfully than when reading text without the cues. This enhanced reading experience turns into more engagement (clicks), longer dwell times, greater page depth, and reduced bounce rates. The increased comprehension and engagement has real world consequences such as more add-to-cart transactions, more checkouts, and more conversions. It also happens to help people with low literacy read easier.

There is more to the inner workings of how we are able to lift conversion rates for every page of content on your site by 10-15% minimum, but don’t take our word for it. Test us. For free. Depending on the package you get, we can even tune the typography to suit the reading patterns and average reading level of your audience.

If you need a way to move the lever on every page in your site, regardless of if your site has 20 thousand or 20 million page views a month, it may be worth a try. We make your messages more sticky. You could even say we make them superstick.

You can reach us here.

Get it across innovatively. And nicely.

Our business model is built to serve you without the nasty surprises of the other business models that have been making the news. You can test us free, no commitment required to ensure the results we’ve driven for others work for you as well. Because there is no overhead expense and you can uninstall with no issues and no commitments, this is literally zero-risk.

Our technology is a different approach to winning customers. Like other approaches it exists to help get your content from screens into people’s heads, but the way we go about is very different from any other approach out there. We aren’t like others, but that may be a good thing.

Are you innovative enough to test us? Risk free?

 

Thanks for reading.

The Asym Team

Asym has expanded – you can now reach 49% more readers

We’re excited to announce Asym has doubled its language base: we now support two new languages, Spanish and French. Together with our existing support for English and German, Asym can now deliver text optimization to 68% of the top 10M websites and 39% of the world’s 3.6 billion internet users. That’s a growth in coverage of 27% more websites and 49% more readers since July 2015.

Asym can now boost readability for

 Total percentage of websites Asym can reach in top 10M websites
Rate of Asym Growth

 

We now have people using our content optimization technology in 224 countries and an almost complete saturation of all significant U.S. business hubs. 

 

Asym use Worldwide

asym use worldwide

 

The best news of all? Business and Personal users of the Asym platform don’t need to do anything to access the new language functionality. We’ve expanded the markets you can reach and made it completely effortless on your part.

 

Asym Use in the United States
Asym use in United States
Asym Use in Europe
Asym use in Europe

 

The API, javascript widget, and the desktop browser extensions (Chrome, Safari, & Firefox), have the increased functionality baked in. In addition we are currently working on some exciting new features that will bring increased personalization and personal control over your reading experience. These features will roll out over the next couple of quarters.
Scroll down to get details on how to get an Asym Subscription free for up to 6 months, plus see a visual map of different languages and more info on language use in the top 10m websites.

 

Word Spacing Optimized By Language

Frequency of Language use in top 10m websitesHere is a peek at how Asym can boost engagement rates for four out of the top six content languages on the internet (Japanese and Russian remain).
Asym automatically detects the language(s) on a web page. It measures the syntactic structure for each language and creates a map of word spacing cues based on structural patterns. Asym then uses that map to create unobtrusive visual cues that draw attention to important sections in the text (hence the term ‘text optimization’). Each language has a different map, therefore each language requires a different pattern of cues to help readers chunk the text. Each language also has a different word density. Asym accounts for this  and will automatically adjust spacing for languages with longer average word length such as German and French.

 

A Visual Representation of Languages

Each of these languages has its own unique syntactic fingerprint. For a deeper look at how Asym works, we’ve created syntactograms comparing word spacing maps for English, German, Spanish, and French. These syntactograms visually present some of the structural aspects of language we use to optimize visual cues in typography. Highlighted (bright bars) are relative adjustments to the spaces before and after certain words common syntactic words (ofthe, and, and a) in each language. Warmer colors (red, orange, yellow) indicate space expansions, while cooler colors (cyan, blue, and purple) indicate space compressions (cyan, blue, and purple).

Syntactic impact of the same word in different languages

syntactograms-by-language1
syntactograms-by-language2
syntactograms-by-language3
syntactograms-by-language4

 

Moving Forward in Changing Times

At Asymmetrica Labs we know reading behavior is changing. We know 87% of users use more than one screen at a time. We’re familiar with the study that suggests the average human attention span has gone from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013 (famously, a goldfish’s attention span is estimated at 9 seconds). We see the world moving towards an era where attention is becoming the scarcest (and thus most precious) commodity.

As markets transition towards an economy based on attention (the attention economy), we don’t view Asym  as new technology. We see Asym as a completely new medium. We are presenting text on a new surface, we are fundamentally changing the background of text, and we are doing it in a way that optimizes text for human consumption. Where some might see Asym as the right technology at the right time, we see Asym as a new medium designed for a new time

Interested in getting onboard early? We are offering a limited number of Asym subscriptions free for up to 6 months in exchange for participating in case studies on improved conversion rates. 

  • Install Asym before Dec 10 2016 to get 3 free months.
  • Install Asym before the end of October 2016 to get an additional 3 months, for a total of 6 free months.

We are looking for a few content optimization examples from several different industries, company types, and company sizes, and we can apply Asym to web, email, and print. If you are interested please reach out to us at connect@asym.co before the spaces fill. Our new medium helps your audience read and engage with your content in four major languages. Installation takes a few minutes. Why wait? There is no better time to be part of the expansion.

 

Timelapse of Asym use across the United States
Timelapse of Asym use across the U.S.

 

Thanks for your time, and as always . . .

Enjoy your reading!

Chris, Ken, and Edward

 

P.S. Asymmetrica continues its work on new languages, along with improvements and deeper research into the languages we already support. Are there languages that are important to you or your business that we don’t yet support? Let us know!

Resources

87% users use more than 1 screen at a time – Accenture report

Attention span drop from 12 seconds to 8 seconds– Microsoft study Downloadable PDF