Content Marketing in the Age of Goldfish-Like Attention Span

August 11, 2016


For years content marketing experts have been trying to stress out the importance of great content when it comes to addressing your target audience at each point in their buyers’ journey. Yet the information overload the consumers of today are facing online makes one wonder what it truly takes to keep them captivated?

Even though the latest research suggests that 2000+ words long articles work better in Google search and social media, other studies show that young people are unlikely to engage with lengthy posts. While browsing the web from small screens and searching for micro-content on social media, their attention span keeps getting too short to read long articles online.

Surprisingly enough, the problem of a decreased attention span is not related to younger generations only. As suggested by US National Library of Medicine, the average attention span of the whole US population dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8.25 in 2015. That’s 0.75 less than the attention span of a gold fish.

What this means for web marketers is that they have less time to grab their users’ attention and keep them engaged. Yet, how do you balance between Google-friendly lengthy posts and presenting the information in a simple, attention-grabbing form to people suffering from information overload?

Understanding the online information overload.

While the liberties of online publishing keep creating new opportunities for marketers, people’s constant consumption of digital content makes it harder for brands to engage their target audiences. Psychologists have long established a connection between mass online information consumption and potential anxieties it may bring, revealing that it is not only our psyche that suffers from information overload. William van Winkle, for example, lists a number of physical disorders that can result from information fatigue, pointing out:

“Data is like food that should be served in reasonably-sized portions. In the age of mass online browsing, however, it is not easy to make the right balance between the information overconsumption and absorbing something relevant. People’s attention spans get smaller, requiring quick information.”

Evidently, the web marketing trends are influencing much more than our purchasing behavior and are more heavily dependent on the changing psychology of an always-connected digital consumer. Therefore, to successfully market to online audience, it is important to rely on people’s psyche, explore their interests and figure out what content forms they are most likely to interact with. In relation to this, Meredith Barrett outlines some of the most important principles to understand:

  • People are visual and 90% of their judgments when looking at a web page are based on color.
  • Consumers rely on emotions rather than static content when making a decision to act.
  • Our decision-making process is influenced by context and representation

Considering these tendencies, it is clear that only the content developed in accordance with these habits is most likely to get noticed by the online audience. More importantly, all this needs to be packed in a form that requires minimum time for them to understand it.


How people consume web content

The need for communicating a message quickly is not entirely new. Yet, providing content that is in accordance with this demand seems to be growingly difficult, thus influencing both content development and web design trends. Young generations admittedly don’t have time for extensive browsing and in-depth analysis and are looking for pieces of information that are easy to find and consume, most frequently in the form of graphics.
In relation to this target group, Pew Internet Research suggests they typically don’t find lengthy posts, studies or white papers a useful read online, which is partly related to the increased usage of smartphones. Of course, the rise of the mobile is one of the trends that have had an astonishing influence on web marketing in the last few years. The fact that mobile searches are now more common than those from desktop platforms additionally changed the way we consume (and are expected to deliver) online content.

Delivering content in the right form

Simplicity has been a guiding principle in the web marketing ever since the accelerated development of the Internet has started. One of the evident results of this focus is the increased value of visual content that has been a dominant form in the marketing over the last few years.

As revealed in a research by HubSpot tweets with images receive 18% retweets, Facebook posts with images account for 87% of interactions, while YouTube videos become one of the favorite web marketing tools thanks to their digestible form. These figures are just some of the indicators that quick, simple and impactful content forms are more efficient in terms of engaging the online audience. In practice, this translates into filling up your content strategy with micro-content forms such as:

  • Mini-graphics
  • Short lists
  • Bullet points
  • Videos
  • Social media posts


As far as demographics dominating the different social media channels are concerned, women still dominate Pinterest, while 41% of teens use Snapchat and 52% Instagram.

Apart from understanding the content forms that drive engagement, it’s also important to adopt a separate strategy for each of the channels the target audience uses. Another research carried out by Buzzsumo in January provides valuable information on the correlation between the type of posts and the engagement they produce. Analyzing over1 billion Facebook posts, they have discovered that short posts(less than 50 characters) in form of questions with images get the most interaction, while the long articles (over 1 , 000 words) linked to a post result in the most engagement.

This is why responsive design, simple messaging and extensive use of images are essential for a successful online strategy. In the age of mobile web and goldfish-like attention span, there is simply no room for mass production of lengthy content that no one gets to see or engage with. However, this doesn’t mean that traditional content forms such as white papers, ebooks and longer articles are becoming obsolete. Instead, it emphasizes the importance of diversifying content forms and distribution channels according to target users’ demand.


With more and more companies and individuals competing for their portion of the online space, content strategies need to be rooted in consumers’ psychology in order to work. Marketers have only several seconds to awaken their audiences’ senses and the best way to do it is to create the right balance between readability, simplicity, design and emotional appeal.

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