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Are you a goldfish? The 6 second attention span

goldfish bowl forest

How long can you pay attention to something? 

Research suggests that our attention span is increasingly getting shorter.

The much-touted goldfish attention span is said to be about 9 seconds. Our human attention span, some suggest, has dropped to a mere six seconds.

But is this really the case?

Are we all fish in a bowl when it comes to reading content or engaging with video content?

No, we’re not. Read on to find out why….

The six second rule

Advertising gurus and media types often cite the ‘six second rule’. Adverts need to be six second long to capture attention and tell the story before viewers move on.

It also applies to advertising on billboards, where a vehicle passenger will be exposed to a message for around six seconds only. That’s why effective billboards have a single image concept, bold colours and a simple message in a short phrase of no more than seven words. (1)

Six seconds in social media

You’ll find this rule in action on every single social media channel too, from six second video ads to oft-repeating GIFs. So it’s surprising to find that YouTube did an experiment to see just how effective six second ads really are, as Paddy Collins, Industry Manager for YouTube UK, explained:

“The key isn’t just cutting down everything and force-feeding people an eyeball-busting six second sensory overload, it’s offering the audience options on when to choose to immerse, when to be brief and when to be gone." (3)

Six second fairy tales

The Greatest Stories Retold is a fascinating project where some of the world’s top advertising agencies were asked to reimagine classic fairytales, and produce 6 second, 15 secs, 30 secs and a longer “skippable” film format of their story.

The results vary from a traditional hard sell advert to more mysterious creations. And it appears that the version you watch beyond the six second clip is more a case of what piques your interest rather than the message. (Have a go here: https://retold.withyoutube.com )

Six seconds - really?

Of course, if we’re interested in something, we’ll always pay attention for much longer than mere seconds. We’ll happily enjoy a 2 hour movie, an ice hockey game, a walk with the dog, for far longer. So, we are really talking about the six seconds your business message has to grab the attention of your reader, viewer or social media fan before their fingers get itchy, the traffic moves on or the dog spots a squirrel.

Six seconds in email and search results

How many emails do you delete every day without opening? If like us, it runs into the hundreds, you can’t possible read every title. You skim read, looking for clues as to the content and deciding in probably a couple of seconds maximum to open or move on.

The same applies to search engine results pages. You’ll take a quick look and decide which of the websites listed has information you want to read. if it fits your needs, you’ll click on the link.

So, how to you judge if a website will be helpful? Here’s a screenshot of the search we did to find background information for this article.

google search results 6secs

Headers and clicks

Chances are, like us, you’d click because of what you read in that big blue header of each listing. It sums up what’s on the page. If it sounds about right, you’ll click on it. This is why writing accurate and snappy meta titles for your articles/blogs is so important. It’s the teaser that pulls people in.

Of course, once potential customers have clicked through, you have just another six seconds to grab and retain their attention again. Chances are, they’ll give you more time because they’ve invested in time already to click through.

That’s where the 15 seconds slot comes in - time to say “This is what this article is about and why it’s of interest to you”, and the person reading to say “Yes, I’ll read more” or “No, not for me”.

Stickiness and bounce rates

If readers stick with your article, this is a Very Good Thing. Google times how long people stay on the page. The longer they stay, the more interest they are showing in your content, which Google likes. It shows Google that the algorithm got it right in showing your website as a result for the initial search query. Big tick to Google, higher rankings in future for your website.

Google also looks at the bounce rate for your article. That’s the number of people who click on the page, read it, say “That’s nice” or similar - and don’t read any more of your website content. Again, how long they take to click away is important,. So, if you can entice them to click through to another page, that’s a strong indicator to Google that your website ticks their E A T criteria - Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.

One simple way is to give your readers links to another article on your website - “Why meta tags are vital for SEO” for example! You can also link out to external sources (as we do) which in turn says to Google “Hey, we know what we’re doing”. Just make sure the links open in a new window, so your website is still open in their browser!

Six seconds reality check

If you’ve read this far, this article has more than done its job. We suspect that a fair few readers won’t get past the YouTube fairy tale video link, but that’s fine. When they close that YouTube window, this article will still be there, beckoning them to read onwards.

So, here’s your reward for sticking with us through 1000 words; what six top creative directors think of six second ads, nine second goldfish and three second posters. Enjoy.





(1) http://wheelhousecreativellc.com/the-six-second-billboard-rule/

(2) https://retold.withyoutube.com/home

(3) https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/en-gb/advertising-channels/video/how-capture-attention-six-seconds/


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