Or, let’s say you’ve written a great guest post on a popular doctor’s high-profile site, or you’re interviewed on her podcast. Overnight, thousands of new people discover your website. Would your site be ready for those new visitors? Would they be able to quickly determine if your content is relevant enough for them to subscribe, bookmark, or return to read?
They’d better be able to make those decisions easily, and quickly. And I don’t suggest this because visitor tracking data reveals you will win or lose a new reader within the first six seconds of arrival to your site. That’s certainly part of it, along with the fact that our world is noisier and more chaotic than ever before.
Another, more pervasive reason now also guides our choices, both online and off. It’s no secret we now live in a bite-sized world: a world where people communicate in truncated words and phrases by typing rapidly with their thumbs into tiny devices. An entire industry has sprung up around the Tweet and the text.
If you want to grow your practice, your audience, earn word-of-mouth or even get noticed at all, you’re first going to have to get small.
Short Attention Span Theater
Information overload may be a byproduct of our new digital world, but sensory overload and complexity are not. And the human brain has evolved with a built-in solution, which may surprise you: When complexity reigns, the brain simplifies.
As Bill Schley points out in his great e-book, Survival of the Simplest – The Micro-Script Rules (available as a free download on ChangeThis):
Behavioral scientists tell us that, in moments of crisis, we shift to an unconscious intelligence that is remarkably fast and accurate . . . (these built-in rules) make us discard information, not collect more of it, to get smarter. When things get scary and complicated, our mental rules of thumb direct us to a much smaller set of more vital data. They tell us that simpler makes us smarter.
This is what your future patients, clients, and readers are doing when they first discover you: They are processing for simple: looking for the simplest explanation of what you do, and the quickest signals revealing how you can (or can’t) solve their problems.
In the face of complexity and overload, anyone you’re trying to reach is discarding information by:
• Being more selective about which emails they even open, let alone read.
• Cutting down the amount of time they spend considering or reading any one item.
• And expecting fewer, easier steps in the searching and sorting process in general.
It’s not that long-form content is going anywhere. (Whew!) More than ever, people want and need good source material. Search data shows that Google now heavily favors sending their searchers to original, in-depth articles of at least 2,000 words. In fact, The New York Times found that people shared longer, more in-depth articles more often than they did short ones.
Our question is: What caused those busy New York Times readers to pause in the midst of their busy day, and to read, consider, and then share those long articles with others? What led those readers to that NYT article in the first place?
It turns out the in order to lead someone to your long-form content and to choose you over a multitude of others, you’ve got to get their attention first, and point out why they should care. And today, we have to help people make that decision in microseconds.
Beyond the Elevator Pitch and the USP
We know we need a short, memorable sentence or two to describe what we do when first meeting a potential client, which is equally true on your website.
And then there’s the classic “USP,” the single-sentence “unique selling proposition” that’s supposed to make customers stop in their tracks and notice you. It’s not that the elevator pitch or the USP have been replaced.
It’s just that online, the amount of time we have to get our message across is shrinking in direct proportion to the amount of information available. We now get to share our message in bite-sized, memorable chunks — one pithy phrase at a time.
How to shrink your message: create your “Micro-Scripts”
One of my favorite marketing books of the last several years is by the same author of the e-book I mentioned above: Bill Schley’s The Micro-Script Rules.
Mr. Schley argues persuasively that those who win attention – and patients, clients or readers – are those who know how to tell their story in “about one line or less.”
In the ChangeThis e-book I mentioned above, he lays out his philosophy:
The new hyper-connected, democratic technologies that allow every human being to become an instant mass media outlet have created a lot of message traffic—roughly 500 billion whizzing by per second. Your chances of getting a word in edgewise—just by “joining the conversation” as they cavalierly say—is an irrational hope. Unless you do three things.
And what are Mr. Schley’s three things?
- Concentrate on more message, not just more medium—so you have something you want to say that switches on their imagination once you’ve got their attention.
- Package your idea in the natural way the brain loves to receive—in fact, can’t resist. And…
- Understand that in our hyper-connected world, it’s not what people hear that really matters; it’s what they repeat.
The Micro-Script Rules is a game-changer because Mr. Schley makes a critical distinction: An effective micro-script isn’t just a great tagline, subject line, or headline. A micro-script is something people want to repeat, tweet, and share.
And this word of mouth is the holy grail of marketing in the age of the short-attention span. His subtitle says it all: “It’s not what people hear. It’s what they repeat.” That’s a great micro-script right there.
So, you’ve got your irresistible, repeatable patient-attraction message, how do you get it out there? Here are a few suggestions to take your messaging successfully online.
Short-change your emails
I prefer long-form articles, announced by a very short email. I know my readers are busy professionals, and I also know that not everyone on my email list reads every one of my articles. So while my intention is to make every article as valuable as possible, and to as many readers as possible, my primary task in my emails is to provide a pithy subject line that serves as the headline for both the article and the email. That single line must quickly tell my subscribers if this email is worthy of their valuable time. If my subject line doesn’t do this in a pithy, memorable way, I’ve lost their attention.
When writing emails to your own email list, even if everyone on your list loves you, acknowledge that your audience is busy and actively filtering and write email subject lines that help them filter successfully. I’m not talking about creating subject lines that trick subscribers into opening an email they won’t ultimately find relevant. That’s a sure way to lose your readers’ trust. There’s a happy medium of brief, creative and informative the only comes with lots of practice.
Go “meta” to get found online
Your article titles are clearly important, and when it comes to the search engines indexing your content it turns out the title of your article is only one of the ways they determine who to send to your site content.
In the “old days,” we used something called meta-tags to tell Google what an article was about, hoping they’d index that article. Happily, Google’s algorithms have become a lot more sophisticated.
These days, Google’s bots are scanning all of your “on-page” signals – not only your headline, but also the first paragraph, your subheads, and more. In fact, they now scan your entire article, identifying and pulling words and phrase they’ll use to index that single article in multiple places – effectively multiplying a single article’s reach dramatically if done strategically. These SEO improvements have proven to be a boon to content creators like my clients, working to grow an audience online and are some of the core content strategies I teach in my practitioner marketing courses.
All of which makes our meta-principle even more critical. You want to create content with an eye to one laser-focused and aligned message within the article itself and also aligned with your overall site messaging.
One way to accomplish this is through powerful WordPress plugin tools like Yoast that scan your articles before you publish, offering helpful suggestions to help your article be found in the search engines. As you create each post or page, you’ll see convenient prompts suggesting improvements to your content, including the oft-neglected meta-tags of yore: your “meta-description” and “title tag.”
Even though the experts debate whether or not Google even considers these tags, I still advocate you use Yoast’s meta-tag field suggestions, because these fields encourage you to intentionally and carefully select the few words that help you focus your content – even if Google doesn’t use them.
Very much like the subject line of an email, these tags should be the perfectly tantalizing summation of what’s inside and is often your first and last opportunity to bring new readers – and customers — to your site.
Get it right, and each page on your website becomes a valuable traffic asset that builds exponentially over time.
Get it wrong, and the right people never find your valuable content.
Honey, I Shrunk The Site
Most of all, your site must be able to survive the new rules of small.
In 2016, Google implemented the controversial “Answer Box,” which provides searchers a pithy summary of an article, without ever having to click through to the site.
Fortunately, not all sites are deemed large or influential enough for Google to “Answer Box” your content, which is another reason I encourage every practitioner to niche narrowly and deeply.
Nonetheless, the challenge to today’s site owner is clear: Where a site owner used to have six seconds to get and keep someone’s attention once they arrived at their site, with search features like Answer Box, our opportunity to get attention has been bite-sized.
Not only must you have a clean, uncluttered design that catches the eye, but your bite-sized headlines had better be compelling, too.
And the screens are getting smaller too: your customers will increasingly find your site and want to interact with it while scrolling through content on smaller screens, on the subway, or while walking down the street.
So, how does your site look on an iPhone? All new WordPress templates utilize mobile-friendly design, which is becoming mandatory. Most of my clients see 50-60% of their site traffic coming from mobile devices.
And of course, we can’t forget the tweet …
And we come full circle: social media. There are plenty of software tools that instantly distribute your brilliant words out to all of the social media sites, in small, pithy chunks of bite-sized wisdom.
And it’s in these social networks, on tiny screens, and in curated search streams that your future patients and readers will find you.