“Human attention spans are shrinking” is a refrain that repeatedly shows up in conference presentations, blog posts, and podcasts these days. But will this myth hold up to debunking?
You, the reader, only have an attention span of eight seconds. That’s less than a goldfish. According to this statistic, you’ve probably stopped reading by now.
Except—that statistic isn’t true. You’re still here, aren’t you?
Problems can arise when catchy factoids are spread around without first being fact-checked, because people take information seriously when it comes from a trusted source. If these incorrect beliefs are adopted and incorporated into your content strategy, that can even be detrimental to your marketing efforts.
It’s time to debunk the attention span myth and others like it.
Myth: Humans Have Shorter Attention Spans Than Goldfish
Microsoft Canada’s 2015 Consumer Insights report is the culprit when it comes to the oft-repeated idea that the human attention span is shrinking — and in fact is one second less than that of the average goldfish. However, a little digging by BBC reporter Simon Maybin revealed that Microsoft Canada’s cited source material didn’t actually exist.
So contrary to popular belief this ubiquitous statistic (cited in our own post from way back in 2016), there is currently no verifiable evidence to support the allegation that the human attention span is eight seconds long, or that it’s shrinking.
What’s the lesson to learn from this, then? Make sure the depth of your content matches the goals, focus, and format. While ads and landing pages are designed to convert, don’t let the idea that you have to immediately convince your reader in the first few sentences hobble all of your content marketing efforts. It’s ideal to grab their attention with a catchy hook, but from there, give the user some credit. If your content is engaging and educational, chances are they’ll keep reading.
There's even data that suggests long-form content (1,000 words or more) is better for driving search traffic, as noted in this piece from best-selling author and digital marketing influencer Neil Patel.
Myth: More Content Is Better
Engagement on your blog is down from last year. Obviously the solution is to produce and publish more content, right? Not necessarily. If you publish one blog post every day, but those posts are boring or confusing, readers will leave your blog and not come back. Quantity doesn’t matter when quality is low.
Blogging isn’t just about pulling in new customers. It’s about creating a relationship with the ones you have and establishing yourself as an expert in your particular niche. To do that, you have to produce engaging, authoritative (and if it suits your brand, fun) content.
The same goes for any content you produce, be it magazines, postcards, eNewsletters, or billboards. Inundating your audience with noise misses the point of communication. Aiming for the right cadence of messaging is just as important as the message itself.
Myth: Your Brain Processes Visuals 60,000 Times Faster Than Text
In 1997, the 3M Corporation made a similar misstep when it stated that the human brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than it does text. None of the research cited on their handout holds up this assertion, but the factoid has been repeated over and over nonetheless. Trusted resources like HubSpot are guilty of spreading it, and it’s this mind-set that leads content marketers to invest heavily in infographics, graphs, and data visualization.
The lesson here is not to avoid visual content, as images are easier to digest than blocks of text and it can certainly work when done right. Rather, it’s that unverified information can spread like wildfire if it’s catchy and supports a marketing vision, until even leading names in an industry pick it up and present it as fact.
Fact-check the information you put into the universe. A clever but unproven statistic that suits your needs might seem fun at the time, but it isn’t worth losing any of the trust you’ve worked so hard to establish with your audience.
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