What A Preference for Reading Books Means for Digital Marketing

Dana Sheehan/ Digital Marketing

Our ability to read is constantly evolving. It’s one of the things that our brain is not naturally wired to do, and something that we have to be taught. Yet, it is so essential to our everyday lives, it’s hard to believe that it’s not something that we naturally do.

Reading has always been tied to technology. It wasn’t until a writing utensil and surface were made that we as a species were able to read and write. As technological advances were made to pens and pencils, parchment and paper, so did reading and writing. The printing press was truly innovative and changed our lives in drastic ways. Typewriters sped up the writing process and computers made mass-production accessible to everyone.

Today, we live in an age of endless information. We consume digital content at an amazing rate, averaging 490 minutes a day. Just like previous technological advancements, digital consumption is changing how our brains work and comprehend materials. There is a distinct difference between reading print materials and reading on a screen.

A Preference for Books

It seems counter-intuitive that while we spend enormous amounts of time on our devices, we prefer reading books. Well, sort of. We prefer reading books for longer content. That’s what a recent study by author Naomi S. Baron found. She surveyed students around the world and learned that 92% of college students prefer to read in print – aka books.

This makes sense. Books engage our brains in a way that says “slow down,” rather that the “hurry up” signals we get from screens. The physical act of holding a book allows us to approach it in a linear fashion. We can see how far we’ve progressed. We can feel the pages, and each turn of a page signals progress.

When reading books, we also remember more. There’s no other distractions. The page on your book does not suddenly tell you that a new email came in. We are able to focus. All of this bodes well for students who aren’t reading books for entertainment as much as for learning (although I would argue that learning is entertaining, but you know what I mean).

What This Means for Digital Marketing

Where does that leave those of us using digital methods for our marketing? Digital consumption is high and rising every year, yet we comprehend and remember less of what we read digitally. That seems like an awful waste, doesn’t it?

I propose that this really means that we need to write differently since our brains are reading it differently. Writing for screens is taking content and optimizing it for digital consumption. It’s understanding that these differences do exist, acknowledging them, and then working with them instead of against them.

Duh, right? Yet we all know websites that are terrible. The key is understanding these differences and applying best practices to your online content. Here’s a few things you can do, right now, to improve your website.

Use Bullets

Bullets are easier to read for lists and makes them scannable.

Use Headers and Subheaders

There are several reasons why this is a good idea. Headers separate content into smaller chunks, giving your readers a way to quickly understand what to expect next. It gives your audience something to scan for clues about what’s on the page. It also helps your page be found by search engines, since they look at the headers to see what the page is about.

Left Justify

In most cases, left justifying your text makes it easier to read, since it’s easier to scan. There are exceptions, but in general, stick to left justifying. This is especially important for longer content.

Use Sentence Case Instead of All Caps

Using ALL CAPS has two problems. First of all, it’s harder to read. Secondly, it feels like you’re being shouted at, and who wants that? The exceptions are buttons and headers, but for general text stick to sentence case. All caps can be used for emphasis if used moderately. Such as in this paragraph.

Writing for digital consumption doesn’t always come easily, and it’s actually harder because you need to put much more effort into writing something short and succinct that makes sense and gets the point across. As Mark Twain once said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” It takes time and effort to write good content for digital consumption, but it is well worth it. The time you put in up front will pay off in the end.


Image Credit: Woman Reading a Book in a Chair BY VIKTOR HANACEK


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