Today we're pleased to feature a guest post from Jonathan Kantor, white paper expert and author of the The White Paper Pundit blog. We like Jonathan's approach of writing and designing for the short attention span reader, and here he shares some tips with us.
Social Media has been heralded as the great new frontier in B2B marketing. But beyond the hype, many experts are missing its hidden impact on reading time, message retention, and the willingness of busy executives to read lengthy, detailed business information. As we grow accustomed to the short, quick messaging methods commonly associated with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, our ability to read detailed white papers will eventually decline.
According to Jakob Nielsen via a study entitled, "Long vs. Short Articles as Content Strategy", web users reviewed both short and long online articles, and were asked to assign a number of "units" based on its cost/benefit relationship.
The study showed that reader retention improved by cutting total word count without impacting content effectiveness. Short articles used in the study that were 60% of the length of their longer counterparts still provided 70% of the benefit.
Nielsen's conclusion: People prefer to read short articles; they mainly want to skim highlights. As he indicates, "A good editor should be able to cut 40% of the word count while removing only 30% of an article's value."
Clearly, the size of the typical online article is much shorter than the average white paper. But based on these findings, B2B marketers can apply several white paper principles that can produce a greater impact with 'short attention span' readers. Here are three of them:
1. Plan Your White Paper Length
Plan on a white paper with a minimum of 6 and a maximum of 8 pages to provide enough information without overwhelming your 'short attention' reader. But don't make it too short. While initially appealing from a cost containment perspective, very short white papers that are less than 5 pages are primarily focused on solution advantages and do not provide enough background information to thoroughly educate the business reader.
2. Apply 'Attention-Generating' Enhancements
The addition of sidebar callouts (pull quotes), shaded text boxes, and short bullet lists are an effective way to fulfill the Social Media model of short, succinct messaging in your white paper. Use them on each page to deliver bottom-line business messages within a short content space.
3. Include both Executive and Concluding Summaries
Contrary to popular opinion, the addition of summaries do not dissuade readers from reading core white paper content. But without them, business readers are forced to review lengthy and detailed information to uncover key bottom-line messages. Attention is often lost after only a few pages, so use both executive and concluding summaries to focus your reader toward the information 'nuggets' in your white paper. If genuinely interested, they WILL find them!
If you'd like read some additional tips that will enhance reader attention in your white paper, please check out this post from Michele entitled, "Eight Ways to Make Key Points in Your White Paper Stand Out."