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How to Hook a Reader: 7 Tips on Writing for Online Readers With Short Attention Spans

Photo of a young woman using her digital tablet while resting on the couch in her living room.
When you’re writing for online readers, you have to make every word count. (Photo: AleksandarNakic)

People’s attention spans are decreasing in our age of tweets, memes, and snippets. Unfortunately, a shorter attention span is no one’s fault but our own. Society has made quick viewing options packed with quick video content so popular that the average attention span for reading has dropped over the years.

Does this mean writing is dead and you should swear off online writing altogether?

Of course not. But it does mean you’ll need to make every word count when writing online materials—especially online marketing content.

The new reality for how to catch readers’ interest? You need to write smarter. Here are seven tips on how to hook a reader in a world with shorter attention spans.

In a rush? Get this article as a PDF guide so you won’t miss these tips!

1. Create a Headline That Fascinates People

Having a compelling headline is the No. 1 way to hook a reader into engaging with your online content.

The average reader can read at a pace of 240–260 words per minute. That breaks down to about 35 words for an eight-second attention span to capture (or lose) the reader’s attention.

You’ll need to include a keyword in your headline, which are the main ideas and topics of what your content is about. Keywords are also used for search engine optimization (SEO), which tells search engines where and when to display your content.

A headline that will hook a reader online—and is suitable for SEO—should have the following:

  • A short phrase that puts your main idea (your keyword) right at the beginning
  • A colon (:) or em dash (—) after that initial keyword phrase, so you can add a bit more to the headline using secondary keywords or supporting ideas (e.g., “How to Hook a Reader: 7 Tips on Writing for Online Readers With Short Attention Spans”)
  • An accompanying subtitle (a description) in sentence form that summarizes the main idea of why people need to read your content

This format should give you 30–50 words to hook a reader. But while an intriguing headline will help you grab the attention of your readers, good writing will keep them engaged.

Don’t Miss: How to Write Headlines for Marketing Content That Readers Just Can’t Resist

2. Give Readers the Most Important Information First

Now that you’ve learned how to hook a reader with a compelling headline, keep their attention by delivering on your promise of more helpful information.

Putting crucial information first gives readers a better chance of reading your entire content from beginning to end. They will probably keep reading as long as they feel that more good information is yet to come.

Keep in mind that the internet is full of distractions: Messages can pop up, videos can start playing, or an exciting fact might cause the reader to look it up, launching a 20-minute deep dive into Wikipedia or YouTube. There are countless many other things on the internet that could disengage your reader from your content.

If you get the most pertinent information into your readers’ heads at the beginning of your online content, the odds are better that they’ll ignore the distractions and keep reading or even come back later to finish.

Photo of a young man looking at a digital tablet.
Putting crucial information first increases the chances that your readers will hang around longer. (Photo: StockRocket)

3. Break Up Long Blocks of Text

Text blocks happen when you write many sentences in a row with no separation, like an encyclopedia entry.

These giant walls of text are hard on the reader’s eyes, making concentration more challenging, and they don’t hold a reader’s attention span for very long.

So break up these long paragraphs to give the reader’s eyes a break and reconnect their attention span. Use short paragraphs—including some with, yes, just a single sentence.

Got it?

Another option is using bulleted or numbered lists to break up the text. Make sure the information in each list is accurate and interesting.

Lists are a great way to hook a reader because they:

  • Fascinate readers: Bulleted and numbered lists are intriguing to the human mind.
  • Appear different: List formats (as opposed to walls of text or text blocks) automatically attract attention.
  • Are easily scannable: Even casual skimmers will notice lists.
  • Make your content more memorable: Research shows people are more likely to remember items presented in bulleted-list form.

Use numbered lists when the information needs to be presented in a specific order, and use bulleted lists for anything else.

When formatting your content, put your bulleted or numbered lists (or at least the bullet point title) as well as any critical information in bold so they stand out even more. Everyone, including skimmers, will read bolded statements.

After learning how to hook a reader by using the tips here, hire the professionals at Super Copy Editors to edit and proofread your work. Our team understands what it takes to write captivating and authentic content.

4. Use Interesting Subheads

Subheads (secondary headings scattered throughout your text) need to guide your reader through your main points and compel them to keep reading.

Many readers will skim your online material, and content designated as H2s or H3s will jump out at skimmers more than the rest of your text.

Create short, snappy subheads that intrigue the reader and pull them in to learn more about the subject. A strong headline will give the reader a reason to check out your content in the first place, but intriguing subheads will keep them interested the whole way through.

Again, make sure your subheadings are factual and not clickbaity with overhyped promises your content can’t deliver on.

5. Watch Your Tone

Generally speaking, web content is less formal than other written forms. Compared with purely informative content, a friendlier, more conversational tone can go a lot further with readers.

A conversational tone means you can use pronouns and address the reader directly by using “you,” “we,” or even “I.” Writing in the second person (“you”) is the most effective.

Use the right tone for your target audience, as some might expect a more formal or direct style. Your target audience is a small group of people who are the most likely to do business with you. Some content should be geared toward telling a story and selling, while other content should be more formal.

  • Suppose you’re writing a white paper, which generally highlights the features, dimensions, and problem-solving qualities of a product or service. In that case, your target audience is probably expecting a more formal tone that gets to the point and forgoes storytelling.
  • Selling a product or service, however, can carry a more conversational tone that tells a story and persuades the reader to take action.

Use your best judgment on whether your content needs a casual or more professional style to engage readers.

6. Write for People, Not Search Engines

Getting your website and content to rank in online search results is a top-of-mind goal in today’s business world. Everyone wants their site to rank higher by using the right SEO keywords.

However, filling your content with keywords that allow for a higher search volume is not the answer.

When companies write online content for search engines and not for people, they come off sounding robotic—and so they weaken the very message they are trying to press upon the reader.

So write your online content for your reader first. Then, go back and populate the content with words, phrases, and images that seamlessly fit in and improve your SEO ranking.

7. Be Authentic

The best thing you can learn about how to hook a reader is to be authentic and transparent with your content.

Authenticity must be present in every aspect of your writing, from the headline to the subheads and the body text to the final call to action (CTA).

Readers can easily spot inauthenticity, not to mention lies, in online content. Misinformation is rampant, and everyone is more skeptical today.

The best way to combat misinformation is to build trust with your readers:

  • Avoid industry jargon and complex terms that most readers won’t understand.
  • Use simple, easy-to-understand terms.
  • Be vulnerable with your thoughts and emotions.
  • Listen to your readers’ concerns and be sincere about helping them.
  • Deliver on your promises.

In the end, the best way to get your readers’ attention is to be authentic, honest, and transparent with them. The respect and trust you earn will go a lot further than empty promises and hollow sales pitches.

Don’t forget! Download “How to Hook a Reader: 7 Tips on Writing for Online Readers With Short Attention Spans” to keep it handy and take action on it. Click here to download it now.

Final Thoughts on How to Hook a Reader

In this fast-paced, mile-a-minute world of online content, you need to make sure your writing is firing on all cylinders to have a fighting chance of being read.

By using these seven tips on how to hook a reader, you’ll be giving your content much better odds of not only being read by potential clients but also turning casual readers into longtime, repeat customers.

To get the most out of your writing, you’ll want to make sure your content is error-free, your writing conveys the right tone, and your message is polished. The editing team at Super Copy Editors has years of experience helping writers capture the attention of online readers.

Our copy editing and proofreading services can help you get the most out of your online content and keep your readers coming back for more. Get your quote here.

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Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Hi, I’m Dave Baker, founder and copy chief of Super Copy Editors. I have more than 25 years of professional proofreading and copy editing experience, including work for The Nation magazine, The New York Times, and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, where I shared two staff Pulitzer Prizes. At Super Copy Editors, we’re passionate about helping agencies, marketing teams, and education companies refine and polish their text to give them confidence and ensure success. Learn more here.

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