30-3-30 Redux: How Can You Reach Today’s Online Readers?

January 1, 2015

[blend images/corbis]
[blend images/corbis]

In the mid-20th century, academician and communication theorist Clay Schoenfeld recommended the 30-3-30 rule. That is, you should present your message knowing that your audience will fall into one of these categories: the 30-minute, 3-minute or 30-second reader:

30 minutes: These folks are readers, and don’t we wish there were more of them!

3 minutes: They’re not reading the text. Instead, they’re flipping, skimming and scanning for key ideas.

30 seconds: With a 30-second attention span, these folks are lookers.

New rule: 10-30-2

So what does Schoenfeld’s rule look like today? According to a study by Microsoft Research, Web visitors spend:

10 seconds deciding whether to stay on a page

30 seconds if they pass that 10-second bailout point

2 minutes or more if they overcome the 30-second urge to flee

Passing the Skim Test

One way to reach all three levels of readers is to pass the Skim Test. Make sure that your Web visitors can understand the gist of your piece by only reading the micro-content, or online display copy. So ask yourself:

What’s your main idea? That goes in your headline and deck. According to ad great David Ogilvy, by the time you’ve written your headline, you’ve spent 80 cents of your advertising dollar. And by the time someone reads your headline and deck, they should get 80 percent of your message.

What are your major points? Place these in your subheads. Think of your subheads as the Roman numerals in an outline. They show the architecture of the piece.

What’s the most provocative point in your piece? Put this in your callout. Callouts are the movie trailers of your piece. Give away the best stuff to get people to "buy a ticket," aka, read the whole piece.

What numbers could you clarify visually? Place these in your charts and graphs. Add a headline to the chart to let people know what to look for in the visual. And add a caption to let them know what to take away from the piece.

What series or lists will you include? If you have a list, then list it. Add boldfaced lead-ins to show audience members the parts of the list. And add a subhead to communicate the topic of the whole list.

What Web pages will you link to? Write links that let people know what they'll find if they click — as opposed to just writing “click here” or “read more.”

What else is terribly important or compelling? Find a place for it, whether in the captions, highlighted key words or other elements of display copy.

Now test your copy. Have a colleague read just the micro-content.

If she gets your key points without reading the text, then you pass the Skim Test. If not, then keep working.

Copyright © 2015 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.


Catch Your Readers Online

Want more techniques for reaching today's readers online? Join Ann Wylie and Shel Holtz for for “Catch Your Readers Online,” a two-day Web-writing Master Class on Feb. 11-12 in Santa Fe, N.M. PRSA members: Save $100 when you register by Jan. 15.

Ann Wylie

Ann Wylie (WylieComm.com) works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services, contact her at ann@WylieComm.com.


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