short attention span

The Attention Span Of A Goldfish

Gee Ranasinha Marketing

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One of the challenges in communicating online – websites, email, whatever – is how to get to your audience before they click off to somewhere else.

The internet may be vast, but with the consequence that your online audience has a vast choice – and a tiny attention span. So how do you get your complex point across, in a world where your target market has a shorter attention span than Granny’s pet goldfish?

The impact of the Internet has meant that many content creators feel that they can write at extravagant length, not only waffling on about their key idea but adding all the fine detail they think is important. After all, it’s not like it has to be squeezed into a magazine page or brochure, right?

Scanning Rather Than Reading

The problem is that the recipient is making a snap, two-second decision about what to look at and what to ignore, based on viewing maybe 20 words of that content. If they do look at it, they’re actually ‘scanning’ rather than reading. Even worse, they may ‘save’ the email to go back to later – which realistically means that they’re never going to view it again.

End result? You think you’ve written a short snappy piece – they think it’s ‘War and Peace’. You’re writing 1000 words, they’re reading 10. And that’s on a good day.

In the world of Wi-Fi this and iPhone that, there’s no time to linger over email: People just want to empty their Inbox and get on with their lives.

Take the “Corporate Email Newsletter”as an example. A few years ago, customers considered email newsletters in the same way as the printed newsletters that they received in the post. They felt valued, because it came to their own personal email account. It increased loyalty, value and built on the ‘relationship’ that they felt they had with your company. Websites, in contrast, were impersonal and somewhere where you went to get something done or find something out.

Short & Sweet To Maintain Attention

Today, everyone knows that adding another recipient to an email list takes less time than thinking. Most people use spam filters of some type to get rid of unwanted emails before they even see them (with the occasional “innocent” email getting lost as collateral damage in the process). In short, people are concentrating more on email that helps them get something done. Anything that they get that doesn’t fulfil that brief – in the three seconds of scanning over it that your message warrants – is likely to get binned.

If you’re looking to use email/web-based tools to either prospect new clients or maintain existing ones (and if you’re not, then you might as well go home now as you’re going to be out of business any day now), then you need to play their game.  In fact, anyone tasked with writing messages from organizations to individuals should wake up and smell the Arabica. Basically, that the vast majority of people are throwing away the vast majority of what you’re sending them.

One of the only ways to maintain their interest – and avoid the delete key – is to play the game. If customers are only going to give you three seconds of their time to decide whether you warrant disk space, then make those three seconds count.

Image Credit (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

About the Author
Avatar for Gee Ranasinha

Gee Ranasinha

Gee Ranasinha is CEO and founder of KEXINO. He's been a marketer since the days of 56K modems, lectures on marketing and behavioral economics at a European business school, and was noted as one of the top 100 global business influencers by (those wonderful people who make financial software).

Originally from London, today Gee lives in a world of his own in Strasbourg, France, tolerated by his wife and young son.

Find out more about Gee at Follow him on Twitter at KEXINO, on Facebook at, or on LinkedIn at


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