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Understanding the user attention span in 2021

If you wish to tackle content marketing you need to have a good understanding of user attention span in 2021.

January 23, 2024

If you've been dealing with digital marketing in the past couple of years you've probably run into the issue of the short user attention span. Namely, what most marketing researchers will tell you is that the average attention span of an online user is at an all-time low. But, apart from this, you'll have a hard time finding further explanations regarding the impact and the cause of this problem. So, to help shine some light, we've dug up info regarding user attention span in 2021. And we will use the following article to give you all you need to know in order to tackle modern marketing with due care.

The 8-second attention span - true or false?

One of the most common estimates regarding the current attention span is the 8-second estimate. Namely, a lot of marketing companies claim that the average customer has an attention span of only 8-seconds. So, is this true?

A person holding a stopwatch.
Try to measure 8 seconds when reading and you'll see how short that time span actually is.

Well, this depends on a couple of factors. First, you need to define what you are trying to measure. There is no universal agreement on what "attention span" truly is. Therefore, researchers can use different definitions with varying factors to outline the notion of an attention span. While there is research that supports the 8-second attention span, there are those that dispute it. So, it is fair to say that the 8-second attention span should be taken with a grain of salt.

What is the real estimate of the current attention span?

One of the things that all psychologists agree on is that the attention span is task dependant. If, for instance, we were to test your attention span, we would only get reliable results if we gave you different tasks and measures your performance on each of them.

For instance, one task would require you to read content that doesn't interest you. While the other would require you to read interesting content. Or, one could have you interacting with your content, while the other may only give you a passive role. The results would likely show that your attention span is far greater for interesting content than it is for uninteresting content. And, in a similar fashion, your attention span for interactive content will be greater than for passive.

So, what this shows is that the attention span of a person is not set in stone and that it heavily relies on the type of content they are presented with. Even now you can see that the 8-second rule, on any other number, won't tell you much unless you know what tests were performed, and how the researchers defined attention.

Kids smiling while looking at a laptop, showing a key aspect to keep in mind when considering user attention span in 2021.
If presented with engaging content, even kids can have a substantial attention span.

 The closest numbers we could find put the attention span for uninteresting content at about 10 seconds. While the average attention span for interesting content goes as high as 12 minutes. Therefore, your focus should be on grabbing the viewers attention.

Is attention span something you should be worried about?

After all that we've mentioned, you might get the impression that you shouldn't even give attention span a second thought. Just focus on creating interesting and digestible content for the right audience, right? Well, the actual problem with the attention span is not so simple. No matter how you measure it, the attention span has shortened over the past years, regardless of who your audience is. Pretty much all of us have grown a bit more impatient and a little less willing to give attention. This is why attention-grabbing has become the norm in marketing.

The attention span and content marketing

The issue of the shorter attention span is something that every content marketing manager should keep in mind. No matter how interesting your content is, you need to condense it so that your audience will have an easy time following along. To put it in marketing terms, your content needs to be digestible so that your audience can easily absorb it.

The success of digestible content

Simply put, digestible content is the type of content that easy to understand and follow. This, essentially, all boils down to presentation. You can make even complex marketing content digestible if you know how to present it. And, unfortunately, even relatively short content can be hard to follow if the author is unsure of what they are trying to say. Content with a clear message, a decent flow of information and

The importance of knowing your audience

Providing the right content is all about knowing who you are providing it to. The same content that will engage 30-year-old IT professionals will likely be quite boring to teenagers. So, instead of trying to condense your content so that it fits some arbitrary time frame, try to alter it so that it fits your target audience. There is a reason why teenagers are able to watch hours of YouTubers, even if they have a "short attention span".

Target audience written on a blackboard.
It is paramount that you understand your target audience if you wish to tackle user attention span in 2021.

 All things considered, it is more important than ever to identify your target audience as soon as possible. By doing so you will not only ensure that your content actually reaches people that are interested in it. But, you will also be able to learn the content marketing trends currently in effect and work towards making your content digestible.

Story content and short videos

One final piece of advice we have for handling user attention span in 2021 is to make good use of story content and short videos. As one of the emerging trends, story content has shown to be quite effective in grabbing peoples attention. By a similar token, short videos are now arguably the best way to present content. The more you can divert from standard, written content, and rely on newer, more engaging formants, the better results you will have in spite of diminishing attention span.

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