To decide what to show you in search results, Google pays attention to how long people spend on web pages.

Unfortunately, that means a lot of content takes a long time to get to the point, deliberately wasting your time to make you stick around longer.

They’re showing off for Google: “Hey, look how long this visitor is spending here! Tell the world!” Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is, in a nutshell, the art of making Google think your web page is worth telling people about.

So in recent years, many web pages have begun starting off with a breezy story-telling style, talking about things other than what you came there to learn about. Liberally sprinkled with relevant keywords near the top of course.

There’s a huge, HUGE opportunity here, of course:

Teach or provide to website owners or content creators the myriad ways to make an article more helpful.

…instead of just ways to make people waste time trying to find the information they were promised.

And this is much easier than you might expect! It’s NOT a you-need-to-be-a-better-writer problem! You can actually just work from a template about what content to include and how to organize it. Content creators don’t need more skill! They just need better templates.

For example, people spend more time if you:

  • Introduce related information, each with a title and short summary in a list format (actual useful information! Related keywords!);
  • Give them interesting questions to keep in mind that you promise to answer, and include a quiz at the end for them to provide the answers. Engaged readers! Actual learning and memorization taking place!
  • Provide an executive summary in bullet points near the top;
  • Provide a relevant graphic that encourages “click to enlarge” behavior;
  • Provide related info in sidebar or pull quote format (essentially text boxes not directly in the format flow of the main post);
  • Provide an on-page highlighter tool for more engagement
  • Gamify the learning. Give them points if they use the highlighter, or share the post (example WordPress plugin), or complete the quiz, or view the highlights others have made. You can embed information or quizzes that have to be clicked to be viewed, and reward those that reveal the info.
  • Etc, etc.

Of course, persuade visitors that you have relevant details worth seeing, and that they would be short-changing themselves to leave with just a short summary. And actually persuade. don’t just leave them thinking “this is going to be long and boring”.

I personally think that the insides-the-book format that popular “course”-style books use (think of the “for Dummies”) series, where they build in lots of related information in sidebar and text-box format is great.

There is an whole industry studying the best practices for learning from written information. Why don’t content creators for the web follow those best practices?

Make it easy for them, or do it for them. That’s the opportunity, and you’ll be making the web a better place for us all.