The five-second content test

You have five seconds to prove your value to an audience – here’s how to make the most of it

Just as adverts on YouTube have five seconds before the viewer can hit the magic ‘skip’ button, likewise your content must show its worth immediately.

The clock is ticking…

00.01 – Headline

Keep it simple.

Work out what the end goal of your content is and let the headline accurately reflect that.

It may be that the main body content has evolved somewhat since the initial brief – so make sure the final thing you do before posting content is to check the headline for its relevance. Let the audience down with a misleading headline and risk losing its trust forever.

The better you know your audience, the more appealing you’ll be able to make the headlines. Using humour is an option but this is tricky territory. The Onion has thrived in the digital era through its parodying of news conventions and use of the surreal – but if in doubt, leave it out.

The Onion's readership is drawn in by an array of funny headlines – a tactic which could work, or could backfire, for your own content

If your content suits a lightness of touch, a snappy play on words could be just what you need. (We’ve touched on the difference between print and online headlines before.)

That’s the headline sorted – what grabs your eye next?

00.02 – Image

Stock imagery is dead; long live stock imagery.

We all know the tropes of ineffective stock images, so why do they keep popping up? Answer: Because it’s easy.

How do you illustrate leadership without a person talking to a group of bright-eyed colleagues? What portrays social media other than a blackboard of social media logos, or a hand swiping on an iPhone screen? Need to illustrate savings? How about a pile of coins with plant shoots growing? We’ve all seen enough.

Image libraries are a vital resource – but are frequently used poorly or lazily

There is another way. In fact, whatever your photo library of choice, there are literally thousands of other ways.

Read the text thoroughly – is there one phrase that leaps out as an evocative image? (Content Desk has looked before at the value of a picture editor – able to paint a thousand words with one well-chosen image.)

If your content is going out in an email or on social then try A-B testing different images.

00.03 – Standfirst

You’ve taken in the image – now your eyes darts up to the standfirst or intro, presumably nestled below the headline.

Again the question of the content’s end goal comes back. If you’ve directly promised something in the headline, don’t begin with flowery metaphors or needless hype – address the topic in hand.

You might choose to do without a distinct standfirst and head straight into the copy. Consider whether a one-line summary is a useful asset or not – how does it look on the page design-wise?

00.04 – Copy

One second to go and you’re out of time.

You should have successfully convinced your audience to click on the headline, attracted them with a photo and intrigued them with the standfirst.

If your copy has proved its worth up to now, it needs to deliver in the main body copy too. A recent survey showed that 59% of people who share content aren’t actually reading it. Good content marketing isn’t simply racking up the shares, it’s about spreading a genuine message. Give your audience as good a chance as possible of being part of the 41%.

Structure the text with subheads to aid skim-readers and don’t forget to keep considering what the search bots will be thinking.

00.05 – Lift off

They’re in and they’re engaged. The journey began with a focused, well-chosen headline and has led your audience down the content funnel – informing them and spreading your brand’s message along the way.

Five seconds can come and go in a flash: make each one count.

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