Understanding Your Content in the Attention-Deficit Age

TL;DR: correctly employ multimedia and configure it, refreshing regularly.

For the uninitiated, ‘TL;DR’ is the abbreviation of ‘too long; didn’t read’ – a response that almost every internet user has had (consciously or not) when their perennial online buffet is interrupted by a stodgy page of text greater than two hundred words.

In broader terms, it boils down to the prospect of consuming content being too much effort to be worth it.

How then, in the era of skim-reading, information overload and content shock, do you keep visitors attentive and willing to spend that precious attention on your site and content?

Before I'm Old
The average fear of engaging with a wall of text


It’s a challenge, especially when information online is almost guaranteed to be duplicated over a myriad of different sites, each potentially displayed in a more alluring way. Internet users are spoilt for choice as they say, and much like a problem child, you need to use tact to keep their eyes on goal and not on the latest fail video, or worse, a more captivating competitor of yours.

So, let’s say that somebody’s online attention can be described as a willingness to engage with content over a duration of time, uninterrupted. The longer the anticipated duration of time, the less likely that engagement will endure, leading to an influx of TL;DR responses, or in market terms, bounces. But what if your content needs length, and thus time, in order to effectively convey its meaning? Well, there is a way…

  • Somebody’s online attention can be described as a willingness to engage with content over a duration of time, uninterrupted.

You fragment the content on the page, intersperse it with something new, and in the process re-engage the attention of visitors with each new bit. Basically, you keep feeding them fun, digestible morsels of media and pace each helping of the important stuff.

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So when I say intersperse it with something new, what do I mean precisely? Online, there are these primary multimedia forms:

  • Video
  • Image (+Infographic)
  • Text
  • Animation
  • Audio
  • Interactive

 (Let’s take away audio [it’s usually not appreciated unless it’s been asked for, and conventional content marketing keeps it within video] and also interactive content as it’s something of a meta-feature of all other forms.)

What are the benefits and drawbacks of each, and how willing are people to engage with them?


Video, done right, immediately boasts authenticity in a way that text can’t. Physical, visible cues have more credibility than semantic ones to the unaffiliated viewer. So if you’re trying to sell your skills as a gardener, you’ll be more successful with a video demonstration of your ability to excavate those pernicious weeds, rather than writing it down in plain old Comic Sans.

Obligatory: don’t use comic sans.

Along with authenticity, it’s simply easier to comprehend some things via video rather than text. The reason YouTube is brimming with tutorials is that a visual reference is easier to adhere to than text.

However, video has its turn offs. For one, videos need to buffer, they harbour ads that may deviate from your message, and to play a video it’s another spent click. Further, watching a video requires the viewer’s attention to effectively sync with the pace of the video itself – a prospect that some sharp thinkers might see as a time sink compared to simply reading.

It’s worth remembering however that video is becoming increasingly popular for content marketing, likely due to social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram introducing native video, along with video-centric platforms like Vine and Snapchat exploding onto the scene.

What’s important to take away from these developments is that they all appear to acknowledge the mercurial nature of people’s browsing habits. Facebook will auto-play their videos as you scroll down to them, vanquishing the potential turn-off that is buffer times, along with the risk of redirection from clicking ‘play’. Further, the six-second limit to Vine and the ephemeral quality of Snapchat both reveal a trade-off between rich content and the duration of engagement expected from viewers.


  • Credibility
  • Wider range of conveying meaning
  • Rich media can condense info into denser & easier to digest bites
  • Some people just can’t be arsed to read


  • Buffer time
  • Distracting ads
  • Full attention required


Images are a fantastic resource in navigating the attention span of a web user down the right path. It’s well known that images are more likely to be shared on social media, so providing avid sharers with a proud image for them to post is an advantage.

As well as this, images can serve as checkpoints for your content. By interspersing the textual foundation of your message with an image that attractively summarises it, you’re giving a user a refreshing break from engaging with an unchanging type of content, whilst still pushing your message.

Much like video, images are easier to consume than text (they are an essential tool in the ‘show, don’t tell’ mantra), although, due to their static nature (and what constitutes an acceptable image size), images have a reduced capacity to convey meaning.

Exercise caution too, image-heavy blogs and articles can seem thin and thrown together. It’s tempting to heap together a load of images that are connected by a semantic thread and call it a blog post, but for the denser material it’s best to use images as a complementary medium to text.


  • More likely to be shared (along with content they’re embedded in)
  • Static, easy-to-consume media
  • A ‘pit stop’ to summarise in-depth content
  • Transcends language barriers


  • Can appear thin
  • Often lacks identity
  • Copyright issues

Infographics are a great crossover of text and image that can be enjoyable to simply gaze at as well as read through. However, a truly exceptional infographic is often at least a two person job, ideally with one person to write the text and another to design the graphics.

Because of this, many find it more practical and time-saving to create their own text and curate and create individual images that reinforce the material.


  • More likely to be embedded on other websites
  • Best of both worlds; information and visuals
  • Can be used to visualised data-heavy concepts


  • Seen as overused in certain niches
  • Can lose brand identity (balance of informative/sales)
  • Usually a 2+ person job
  • Additional cost to design and develop


Ah, text. The big one. It’s what started it all, back in the swinging 60s*. The creation of text was a huge step for mankind, and well, you’re reading this now, so you can guess the impact.

Writing is arguably the most versatile of all forms of multimedia, despite the perceptibly simple nature of it. Let’s not turn this into a discussion about semiotics – I’d need much more tweed for that – but the ability to evoke emotion and convey information using a combination of simple shapes is hugely powerful.

That’s the functional element of text, yet it’s all in the style when it comes to how persuasive your textual message is. We’ve spoken about how a wall of text will almost immediately turn off an internet denizen, so the obvious solution there is formatting. Formatting – and in the online world, that means regular and digestible paragraphs, usually– is a style that the majority of people will adopt.

Similarly, meta-features such as font size and type have their staples.

Yet where style really shines through is voice. Gone are the days where a formal and clerical voice is the only way to command respect. Anything can be stuck online, so text is no longer filtered through a publisher that’s ensured the author is reputable.

Instead, your written voice has to express authority whilst also reminding the reader that a real human is behind the disembodied writing on your screen. On top of that, you need to be concise and accessible enough to be picked up by the everyday user in your demographic. It’s tough, but the influence of writing is constantly being rediscovered.


  • Basic data, can be disseminated over many platforms
  • Easy to format and customize
  • Can be returned to at leisure
  • Is buoyed by the imagination of reader


  • Lacks immediate stimuli
  • Subject to skimming
  • Takes time to produce

*3260 BC, that is.


Firstly, let’s clarify that animation differs from video in the sense that it uses a sequence of independent images to create motion, whilst video captures motion and then divides it into frames.

Animation is an abundant feature of media such as apps, menus and anything that might be interacted with by a user. As far as animation that’s featured within your online content though, the almighty gif is the most popular.

Gifs are great because they’re on a permanent loop, there’s no play button and they reside as easily as an image does. Further, because they’re looping by default, their motion provides an immediate attention capture, one that can be harnessed to reinforce certain messages or CTAs.

There are drawbacks to gifs however. A poorly executed gif is one that is either too long or too short. A gif with only a few frames will frustrate viewers by it seeming like a jittering photo, whereas a drawn-out gif will test the attention of a viewer. This is compounded by a slower internet connection or a poorly compressed gif – gifs demand the immediacy of images, and a load time is as bad as a buffer time.

A quality gif uses effective compression to make it loop smoothly and utilises motion tastefully. A gif should be seen as an image with a bit of life in it, sort of like in Harry Potter but without the wands and house elves. In fact, tasteful motion in gifs have spawned a whole new artistic medium, the cinemagraph.


  • Provide immediate motion and thus capture attention
  • Simple to implement, no embedding necessary
  • Share the benefits of images


  • Quality can be lost upon compression
  • Can be slow to load


Each type of multimedia risks being too long to read, or too much effort to watch, and that capricious little scamp that we call attention is led away by the prospect of that next page. It’s important then that you utilise their strengths whilst compensating for their weaknesses by threading in alternative forms.

You don’t go to a buffet to eat a single type of food, so neither should you heap a single lump of media on your plate at your information feast. Just like a well-balanced meal, it’s important to recognise how to nourish the interests of your readers. Similar to a weightlifter and their insatiable appetite for protein (for ‘them gains’), your audience will need a tailored arrangement of multimedia that suits them.

What’s important is that no matter what your main weapon is – be it text, video, image etc. – you need to harness it correctly and intersperse it with alternative multimedia when the need arises.

And here we are, at the end. Bet you didn’t notice because of those hearty gifs.

follow your dreams
Nat Rubyan-Ling

Author: Nat Rubyan-Ling

Nat is compellingly unpersuasive in his writing unless he's been fed, in which case he turns into a walking literature academic. Which he was. A keen observer of online culture, you'll find him making odd statements about the existential malaise that memes signify.

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