According to most experts, and depending on how you measure it, most adults have an attention span of about 15-20 minutes. That means they can focus on something for about that long if they’re really interested in it. A 3-year-old’s attention span is more like 3-4 minutes. So what does it mean that by every indication, the average web user’s attention span is about 10 seconds? Of course, this is kind of an apples and oranges argument (we all know our virtual attention spans are far shorter than our real world attention spans), but worth considering. The fact is, a web visitor is likely to leave your site within less than 10 seconds after arriving. Read that again – your average web visitor is gone in 10 seconds. Yikes.

Luckily, your web site is full of exciting, sexy, flashy, interesting bells and whistles and the most mind-blowingly original content EVER…right? Oh, you mean your organization is focused on issues-based advocacy or philanthropic work? Or thought leadership in a niche industry? Or some other knowledge content that requires an attention span greater than 10 seconds? What to do?

Well, you’re not lost. (In fact, I would argue that bells and whistles are usually just a distraction anyway and won’t help with user retention for knowledge sites – simple is better.) The fact is that the 10 second number is a misleading statistic. Yes, many of your potential users will be gone FAST. But if you think about it, the person who arrives at your site but is gone that quickly is telling you that either a) they’re the wrong audience member; or b) your web site sucks. OK, well, that may sound a bit harsh. But it’s sort of true. Either your content isn’t appropriate for that user, which is OK – let them go! Or, you’re not presenting your content in a way that even an engaged user can get excited about.

What to do about this? For one thing, you should follow our 4X4 Model for Knowledge Content. By using a few key strategies, you can present your knowledge content in a way that steps appropriate users into your content in stages, allowing uninterested people to fall away, while helping encourage potentially interested readers to find the good stuff within! The other thing you can try is to create variations on your content and the display of that content and test it! If you’re not familiar with A/B Testing, read about it first, then consider using this technique on your site. You can create variations on content, images, buttons, etc., and test them side by side and see what happens. Did you get more clicks, more comments, more social shares, more time spent on page…?

Long story short, your audience has the attention span of a goldfish. Understand it, don’t bemoan it. Use that knowledge to your advantage.

Did you get this far? If so, you’re the right audience for this post. If not, well, you’re not reading this so I guess you aren’t my target audience…or maybe this was poorly written or…either way, you’re gone and I’ll never know. Next time, leave a comment so we know what to do better if it’s about us!