Why You Should Stop Writing Only for People who Scan Online

People don’t read on the Web.

They just don’t read online.

They scan and scroll, going through stuff at lightening fast speed.

If you don’t catch their eye, they are gone. If you have their attention, you better do everything you can to keep it.

That’s what we have heard, right. That’s what everyone keeps on talking about.

People are pressed for time. They subscribe to hundreds of blogs. Their feeds are literally spilling over, so they ignore everything.

I’d like to offer another view.

People do read online.

They read bloggers they really admire, they read stuff that intrigues them, or just make them forget their troubles for a few minutes. They read posts that offer unique point of view.

People do read online. They just read the stuff they love to read.

But this is not what you are thinking, are you? When you are writing your blog post.

You are thinking – oh, people don’t read so I’d better make it snappy. I must write to attract every one who lands on my site.  I must catch all the people passing by.

The problem in writing for this kind of potential reader is that you develop a ‘want to please’ mindset.

You are not writing because you have something useful to offer, but you are now begging for attention. You are also writing to the wrong audience – audience that is not a good fit for you anyway.

What happens next is this: When you write, you care all about grabbing their attention. In fact, this becomes your first priority.

You do everything you can to get people to start reading.

You become obsessed with perfecting headlines. You are forever thinking about hooks to lure people in.

Your writing becomes gimmicky – just a tool to get people to read what you have to say.

Here’s a thought ..

People want to read what you have to say

Now, assume for a second that you have an audience eager to listen to what you have to say.

They are really interested in what you have to say.

They are here – and they are all ears.

Isn’t that a much better place to be in? Writing to someone who cares versus writing to someone who is practically a stranger?

If you write to people with the assumption that they are notgoing to be interested and you need to fight to get their attention, you lose.

If you write to people assuming they have no time for you, you lose again.

By doing so you are actually saying you are not worthy of their attention.

You try to write short, snappy posts. (Do this if that’s is your natural style, not everyone writes like this. I do, and I also love fragments. Just saying.)

Your posts always sound rushed. Like you want to get to your point real quick. And this is not a bad thing entirely, you should not write drawn out intros for the sake of making it longer. That being said, don’t write with the fear of losing readers, either.

My point it, don’t rush because you feel people have no time.

Start with this mindset: These are people who like me and trust me. Now write what you have to say.

Write for scanners and readers both. Scanners gonna scan, you know what I mean. It helps to keep the mechanics of writing online in mind – short sentences and paragraphs, headings and bulleted lists, lots of white space.

But don’t forget the people who read.

People have time

People have time – they will find the time. They just choose where they want to spend it.

I subscribe to many blogs and the topics that interest me, I read word to word. I don’t skip.

Headlines don’t even matter. They don’t have to be clever either. (I open every single email from Copyblogger – if they were thinking between 5 possible options, any would have worked for me. Heck if they send a post titled … blog post about content marketing – I’d still open it, but that’s just me. I don’t recommend you go down that route. But don’t obsess either.)

Unless the topic specifies something that I will most definitely be NOT interested in, I always open emails from my favs.

I can’t wait to receive the new posts from these guys

  • Danial Laporte. I just love her insights. They are Gold.
  • Social Triggers. Derek’s videos are so cool. I love watching them.
  • Marie Forleo. Adore her antics. And her business advice is always rock solid.
  • Penelope Trunk. I love her eccentric views. Plus I am really interested in personality types and right career choices for people.
  • Mark Schaefer. A real thought leader.

Do you think these people are rushing in their writing on my account? Are they worried that I am scanner?

I am. But not what it comes to THEIR stuff.

Sure they are making their posts tight and to the point, not because they want to appeal to traffic that is passing by, but because it makes
for excellent writing.

I can’t wait for their latest posts. I am reading every word. (And I am the biggest scanner there is).

People move on

In my initial stages of blogging, I subscribed to a lot of ‘educational’ blogs because I wanted to learn as much as I can, and as quickly as I possibly could.

Since then, I feel confident that I don’t need the beginner or intermediate level stuff when it comes to content marketing and blogging. I have moved on. Many do.

Keep in mind, people move on for a number of reasons. They might feel they have gotten everything you have to say and simply find other blogs to follow. (This is especially true when you are writing purely educational content).

There is so much you can say about a topic if you are teaching it. That’s why people graduate from programs, courses and Universities, you know.

People like what they like

Now that we have established how much I love Copyblogger – it is fair to say that I read about 80% of their stuff. (I do actually open every single email of theirs.)

Not every post is relevant to me, not every post appeals to me.

I will devour anything on better writing, better author ranking and anything by Sonia Simone or Jon Morrow. Lately I have been loving their Author Files.

But I do skip every post on Facebook, Pinterest, SEO or anything too technical.

Like Naomi Dunford of Ittybiz says (too lazy to look up the reference), if you appeal to at least 20% of your audience at all times, you are doing it right.

So next time you are writing, picture a friendly reader’s face who is opening your email with great anticipation … not some random stranger passing by.

Stop rushing. Imagine your readers hanging on to every word.

If they are your person, you will draw them in anyway.

You don’t have to write for the visitors on the off chance that they will stay.

You have to take care of your readers and people who will become your readers, even if they scan other people’s content.

People don’t read on the web – unless they are really interested in the content. Found this gem posted somewhere.

Duh! Isn’t that just like – everywhere else?

Have you taken my 3-minute Client Attraction Quiz? Check it out now, it’s awesome! :)


  1. Flora Morris Brown Says :
    Posted on February 22, 2013 at 4:15 am


    You are spot on again.

    People make time for what they care about. That goes for being with people or reading blog posts.

    We do our dedicated readers a disservice if we write for the scanners who not only fly through without engaging, but will likely never become our clients.

    Like window shoppers, scanners don’t participate in the conversation and therefore don’t add to the value. Perhaps they have their place in the scheme of things, but they cannot be the target of our work.

    • marya
      Posted on February 22, 2013 at 5:08 am

      That’s a great analogy, Flora. Scanners = window shoppers. Sure, you put some stuff out to entice them, but all your best stuff requires time to browse. Who is gonna buy if they have only few seconds to spare. And people who are serious, do come back.
      Thank you! 🙂

  2. Anita Hampl Says :
    Posted on February 22, 2013 at 4:16 am

    “Scanners gonna scan.” How tweetable that is!

    I agree with you that interested readers will read every word – once they know, like and trust you.

    That said, reading on a screen is harder than reading a print document, so white spaces and fragments are very kind to offer to your readers, as you kindly demonstrate.

    • marya
      Posted on February 22, 2013 at 4:55 am

      Hi Anita
      I should have put in a Click to Tweet button! 😉
      Yes, K-L-T, that’s the definition of success, right there. Thanks for your comment. Appreciated.

  3. Muhammad Saeed Says :
    Posted on February 22, 2013 at 4:20 am

    Great post!

    • marya
      Posted on February 22, 2013 at 4:53 am

      Thank you. Glad you like it. 🙂

  4. Andrea T.H.W. Says :
    Posted on February 22, 2013 at 7:14 am

    Very good article Marya and so true. We have enough to worry about keywords and obeying dictates from Google that worrying about scanners can be put a bit aside.

    I try to have a pleasurable layout but I need readers. I scan too when reading online but just to understand if what I read is interesting. Also we can’t block our creativity too much to follow rules of good writing.

    It works to get new readers but the old ones are mostly interested in content and will probably forgive if the layout isn’t perfect. 🙂

    Have a great weekend!

    • marya
      Posted on February 22, 2013 at 8:21 am

      You know what, I don’t even worry about keywords or Google for that matter. I probably should but it never seems to be a priority for me. I’d rather write for my people. 🙂

      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it, as always …

  5. Deborah Bohling Says :
    Posted on February 22, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Well I took the time to read every word of your post if that says anything. And I agree with what you’re saying. I gave up on blogging before because of worrying so much about what my reader was looking for I lost the joy in writing. I’m only recently back to blogging and I’m trying not to think so much about following the rules that generate readership but rather just write from my heart as I love to do and be patient about the right readers coming along. I enjoyed your ebook. Thanks for offering it to us!

    • marya
      Posted on February 22, 2013 at 8:22 am

      Thanks Deborah, that’s very kind of you. 🙂 I am sure you will find your people soon enough. 🙂

  6. Ben Says :
    Posted on February 22, 2013 at 8:30 am

    Hi Marya,

    I enjoyed your post and I thought you made a lot of great points. I’ll be subscribing so I can read more from you. 🙂

    I write a blog with the tagline “Recipes for Busy Bloggers”. It’s a blog about blogging, and it’s aimed at readers who don’t want to spend ages reading a post. So I’m doing exactly what you say not to do! 😉 But do you think it makes a difference if the “quick” nature of the posts is the focus of the blog? I do support these posts with a free eBook or two so I can add some weight to the topics I cover.

    I totally see your point about wanting to read almost every post from your favourite writers. And I find myself doing the same. However, those people tend to fall into a fairly small group, and I subscribe to a lot of blogs where I only click through if the title grabs me. It shouldn’t trick me or be over-optimised (think: spam), but it needs to be more than “thoughts for today” for instance. I do still agree that obsessing over the perfect title isn’t the best approach. Clear and coherent writing works for me. 😀

    As for scanners vs readers. I often scan, but if I find the post particularly captivating, I’ll read in a bit more detail. That’s what happened with your post. I scanned a bit, then started reading it properly.

    Now, if you’re not already a well-known writer, how do you grab someone’s attention? Yes, your post might be awesome, but I find that the scanning argument isn’t just about whether someone reads your post. It’s also to do with whether a reader actually opens up to the possibility that you might be a great writer, someone they want to follow in future. Writing for readers who scan might not be the way to do that, but if the first paragraph of your post isn’t interesting enough to compel people to keep on reading, my understanding is that many people won’t. How do you overcome that if you’re not already someone like Copyblogger?

    Off-topic but this is why I like services such as Triberr – helping the little guys get their posts out 🙂 I’m sure I found this post thanks to Triberr.

    • marya
      Posted on February 22, 2013 at 8:51 am

      Hey Ben, I really enjoyed your comment – and I read every single word. 😉 No scanning.

      I’ll be checking your blog in a minute but before that I’d like to respond to a few points you have made. I don’t think you are doing anything wrong, in fact anything that helps people save time is a great positioning statement. My point is more about being not rushed in your writing and always trying to catch the attention of passers-by.

      You are spot on when you say ‘those people fall into a fairly small group’ .. and this is precisely whey I subscribe to handful of bloggers now. But I’d day it is a transition, you start off with wanting to know everything that happens in your industry, and then within 6-12 months you realize your education is complete. Then you get everyone off your list and keep those ones you can’t live without. At least that’s how it happened to me. 🙂

      Glad to know you eventually read it properly, Imagine the irony … had you not! But the sad fact is, many people are scanning and then clicking away. And that’s totally fine, I want to attract the ‘right’ audience. So in a way, this is my screening process ..

      So initially when you are not popular, it is the matter ot building authority. It is the matter of writing content 20% of the time and spend 80% promoting it. When you guest post on big platforms, you slowly drive traffic to your home and even then many people will not end up being your loyal readers, but you get the idea ..

      Triberr … wow, I had no idea. Guess I have to thank them for sending you my way.

      Now, off to check out your site … 🙂


  7. Linda Says :
    Posted on February 22, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Well… like others on here, I started scanning this post but then chose to read every word.
    I read somewhere, possibly on Copyblogger, that the sole purpose of your first sentence is to make people read the second one. Sometimes I think about that and sometimes I simply write from my heart.
    Like you, Marya, I limit the number of ‘how to’ blogs that I subscribe to and yours is on my list! Too much info can be overwhelming and I should be aware of the basics after three years of my blog. However there’re always new strategies to learn!
    I know every word should earn its place and that’s something I try to keep in mind.
    Thanks for making me think about who I’m writing for.

    • marya
      Posted on February 23, 2013 at 1:51 am

      Thanks Linda for sharing your thoughts with us. It certainly pays to keep in mind who you are writing for. 🙂 Cheers.

  8. Jean Kotzur
    Posted on February 23, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    I went to school in the fifties and sixties and my English teacher was an Oxford Graduate, one of the ‘Old School’ of educated teachers. I think she would consider emigrating if she was still alive and could see what was happening to our beautiful language. I stick to her principle which was ‘Good writing will always be read’. Thankyou for a very interesting website.
    P.S My website is still in progress.

    Jean Kotzur

  9. Henneke | Enchanting Marketing Says :
    Posted on February 23, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    “Write for scanners and readers both.”

    That’s spot on Marya. Research by Jakob Nielsen suggests only 16% of people read word-by-word. 79% scan text. (http://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-users-read-on-the-web/)

    As a blogger you need to attract scanners and find a way to turn them into readers. Scanners can become readers if they’re your target audience and if you can find a way to draw them into your blog posts and build a relationship with them.

    • marya
      Posted on February 26, 2013 at 10:49 pm

      Hey Henneke. Good to see you. 🙂 I agree with what you have said. My point is if we worry too much about appealing to everyone who is scanning our content, we will end up diluting it and making it sound gimmicky. Sure, it is super important to be ‘scannable’ on the web, and I would never every suggest otherwise. (Scannability is a pre-requiiste to all online content). In all honesty, probably we all start with scanning first. I am only saying we need to think about the loyal readers as well.

      Thanks. 🙂

  10. Claudia
    Posted on February 23, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    I so agree. I am probably the biggest scanner (next to you), but I really, like everybody else, have to make the most of my available time. But your tip about not rushing is good. I think I haven’t found my middle way yet. Some posts I feel are too long, others too short. Oh we’ll, I am still learning 😉

  11. Jennifer Brown Banks Says :
    Posted on February 26, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    I would have to “respectfully” disagree.
    I think that this is where having an intimate knowledge of one’s readership is important. 🙂

    People read blogs for different reasons. Some for entertainment, some for educational reasons, etc.

    For example, I subscribe to cooking blogs, writing blogs, inspirational blogs…

    While I don’t mind a long post if it’s of an educational nature, I do mind if it’s on a recipe, or a book review, etc.

    People are on information overload today: emails, text messages, infomercials, junk mail, alerts—yada, yada, yada. Respecting people’s time is important.

    I firmly believe that something brief can also be “substantive.”

    That’s just my take on this topic. Thanks. 🙂

    • marya
      Posted on February 26, 2013 at 10:42 pm

      Hey Jennifer. You misunderstand me, or maybe I wasn’t totally clear. I never said to write long (aka epic) posts. I am merely suggesting that once you start writing with the mindset that nobody is paying attention and that you have to rush in your writing and employ all sorts of tricks to keep their attention, that is the time when it is worth taking a look at whether they the right audience for you. There is nothing wrong with brevity – I am all for it. That being said, people read every single word of whatever rocks their boat. This is the mindset we should be writing with. Those who are interested will read, those who are not will scan or hit delete and that’s totally fine, too. 🙂
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Appreciated. 🙂

  12. Jennifer Brown Banks Says :
    Posted on February 26, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    Thank you as well.

  13. Ruth Clark Says :
    Posted on February 27, 2013 at 12:06 am

    Hi Marya,
    Thanks for sharing this. I happen to agree with you. I open your emails and look forward to them. I don’t scan yours, either. It so happens I find you helpful to me. Again, thank you.

    • marya
      Posted on February 27, 2013 at 12:13 am

      Thanks very much Ruth. And, I rest my case! 🙂

  14. Jennifer Brown Banks Says :
    Posted on February 28, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    To quote a popular song, “Different strokes for different folks.” Thanks again. 🙂