The Secret To Getting Attention

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Brands and individuals spend their time trying to figure out ways to get attention. To get people to care about their message. It has not become easier to do so. In fact, it’s much harder.

The reason getting attention is that much harder is because there are so many published outlets and so many places to get information (about anything). Forget about the thousands of magazine titles and television shows. Forget about the specialty channels and forget about the many local newspapers that are all hunting for something new to say. In the online world everyone and anyone is a publisher of content as well. from Facebook status updates and 140 character tweets on Twitter to Blogs and posting videos on YouTube, the landscape is far, wide and deep. This fragmentation has led to a fairly fragmented and niche audience for all publishers of content.

With all of that comes the need (more than ever) to be able to capture your public’s attention.

PostRank is one of many online analytics tools that attempts to rate and score social statistics from reader’s online to help people determine what is worthy of reading. It applies a PostRank score of 1-10 (1 being of little interest to 10 being of significant interest). It looks at everything from who is reading, sharing and commenting and beyond. While I am sure that there are many who might question the methodology of PostRank’s algorithm, it often highlights something we should all acknowledge and accept that much more often…

The provocative stuff is the stuff that gets the most attention.

PostRank has an add-in application for your web browser that allows you to see an individual Blog post’s PostRank number directly in your Google Reader page (you can grab it here: PostRank + Google Reader). It adds a whole new way of looking at your content to see which Blog posts are getting some semblance of heat. One trick is to subscribe to your own Blog, view it "list" mode and see how your individual Blog posts stack up against one another.

"If it bleeds, it leads."

It’s a classic line from the newsrooms of the oldest newspapers. With all of this progression in media and publishing, not much has changed. It’s interesting to know that the more salacious I am, the more intrigued you are. I’ll chalk that up to the human condition, but we tend to not look much beyond the headline.

For the month of November, here are the headlines/Blog posts you liked the most:

With a score of 7.5 or higher:

What do we learn?

We know that the content has to stand-up regardless. You can linkbait all you want with a catchy headline, but if the content does not deliver, all is lost. We also learn that people love a combination of drama and mystery. The title has to draw them in, but, here’s the truth: I don’t think that those posts were my best ones of the month. I do think that they were the ones with the most provocative or enticing titles. It turns out that the old tricks are still the new tricks – no matter how often we shout that New Media is so different.

We would like to think that we have evolved… but maybe we haven’t. Do I really have to grab your attention to get your attention? What’s your take?


  1. There will be a certain level of readership that you will have, regardless of the title. I am willing to bet that each provocative title adds to this group too. As for the ones who come for the hint of controversy, how much they feature in your content planning is down to the objective. Though even if you just want to build on a stable readership, that tactic does have its place.
    As you said, if the content is not very good, they will just bounce anyway.

  2. This is a great headline. As for the tool, I wouldn’t go that far. To quote one of our friends, “Content rules”. There are so many other aspects you can’t control in terms of reader’s habits, like weather, news cycle, mood, health – all aspects you cannot influence. You CAN influence your choices of content; what are you writing about.

  3. There’s the trust factor. Every time I see your picture in my facebook feed, I click the link because I know I’m going to get good content.
    Relevancy factor. I’m interested in learning more about social media right now and that’s you!
    Connection factor. The post I responded to most was the one about reading books. I read voraciously and compulsively.
    Quite frankly, I’m not sure I read the titles.

  4. Wow… PostRank is pretty neat. I’ll admit it. I didn’t know about it. This will certainly help me peruse the content more effectively with GoogleReader. I just hope that I don’t become a snob about it. Some great posts might have low ratings. At least it’s now an option.
    Thanks for sharing, Mitch.

  5. Evolved how? Survivor is still a #1 show and people like reading supermarket tabloids and stuff that catches their attention.
    There is a double standard here, just like it’s not ok to watch TV for two hours, but it is ok to read for two hours… even though that’s the same behaviour. Same thing for blog posts– if it’s on the web and it’s linkbait, it’s ok, but if it’s on a news-stand, it’s not?
    This is the way we are.

  6. Mitch, I’ll use your blog as an example. I, for one, at least click into every post. I might read 1 closely, maybe even re-read it, and I might only skim another. The reasons for my different attention levels are numerous, but at the very least, title is one contributing factor.
    In your recent podcast with Neville, you both talked about how you still think about what titles will catch a reader/listener. I don’t know enough to say this for certain, but maybe this is just something that is so basic that it can’t be evolved away from.
    Even being a subscriber and persistent reader, do you still have to grab my attention to get it fully? Generally, yes. And, in the future? Probably.

  7. There’s no one answer. For your blog, Mitch. You could simply put “Blog Post #456” and then “Blog Post #457” etc and I’d come by to read them because I know I will get thoughtful posts that I almost always get value from. That approach would not bring in new people so I think the titles matter.
    Another side of this is using overly clever titles that could in fact, turn off loyal readers.
    My preference? Honesty in advertising. in other words, if it were for simply me, I’d prefer titles that are not cute, catchy or too clever but ones that actually just said what the post was about.

  8. I’m a quality over quantity type of person which, admittedly, is not the point when one wants to get attention and have buzz. That said, drunk people behaving badly also get a lot of attention.
    The difference is in the value of what’s brought to the table. So many people, for example, pride themselves on 500+ connections on LI. But, if you’re collecting them like prizes as opposed to real and meaningful exchanges, I think you’ve missed the point.
    Like a previous commenter, I read your blog religiously because I always learn something or am struck by something. I think I may be the only person who has unsubscribed from Seth Godin’s blog because I don’t understand the hype… or maybe I just don’t understand him (and that’s fine too)

  9. Wow Frances, a lot of similarities between us- from knowing quality content from Mitch to reading and learning about social media. Though, I do look at titles perhaps a bit more than you, even if it’s in my subconscious.

  10. If the content isn’t there, forget it, I won’t bother. Quality rules.
    Though it’s not for me, the salacious and dramatic do tend to receive the most attention. How else would Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton be famous? What is it they do again?
    Perhaps some lives are boring and they feel the need to escape. Regardless, my life has been anything but boring and my focus is on quality content and discourse. At times even I’m distracted by certain headlines and have been guilty to click and see what I would normally pass on.

  11. We’ve certainly seen accusations of pimping sensationalism before; the launch of the Atlantic 50 being a notable one ( Too right wing! Too left wing! Indeed…
    And yeah, our methodology does get questioned, but anyone’s will if it doesn’t exactly match your idea of how X or Y should work. The fact that our analysis is about activity rather than opinion (we don’t have voting or user-based rankings, for example) helps.
    We’ve also seen in spades that over time it’s all about consistency. Training yourself to produce content regularly, and training your audience, while growing it, to read your stuff regularly, are the first big steps. And from there learning about what you write well, what (and how) your audience likes to read, and generally learning how to produce consistently better content.
    It all depends whether you want to become a resource in people’s minds, or their source for salacious entertainment. And whether you want a thoughtful, engaged audience that is more likely to form a community with you and each other, or just people who drop in, get the latest gossip, occasionally drop garbage comments or get into a flame war, and then depart.

  12. Reminds me of what Steve Spalding wrote which included (more about keeping attention perhas) “Marketers continue to increase the size and scope of their messages and consumers continue to get better at screening them out. The result? You need to be more creative, more pervasive and devote more and more energy to the task of earning consumers time. ”
    And Mitch, suggest that you strike a balance, catchy titles on occasion to capture those that don’t already know you, simple factual titles for those of us that know you and scan your blogs regardless of the title, trusting that you often have something clever or insightful to say.

  13. We do have the be careful not to mistake clicks for impact. I tend to focus on things like clicks and traffic because they are easy to measure, but the uncomfortable fact is that impact is a lot harder to gauge.
    A post might get less traffic, but if it causes more behavioral changes, it is more impactful.
    This is pretty easy to measure for someone like a shopping blog that can then measure sales, but how would you measure true impact for your posts?

  14. Chris – That’s precisely why we weight different activities based on how much interest or effort they indicate. Coming to a blog, reading it, then leaving a comment that addresses the content and adds new perspective shows a whole lot more engagement than clicking a button (or a vote, for that matter).
    I think your point about causing behavioural change is a great way to describe it. Which activities are most likely to affect OTHER people’s activities related to this content?

  15. Evolution is a state of mind! While the tools may change, the topics and issues have not moved very much at all. Sure we moved from blood sports to football, hockey, & MMA…oh, wait… The human condition is a powerful force and really feel that Maslow locked on to something that is time resisitent.

  16. I don’t think there is any one answer either. Just thinking about myself, just seeing a new post from Mitch does not guarantee that I will click and read. Not because I don’t trust that the content will be worth the time but mainly it has to do with how I feel at the time or if I’m too busy. And, inevitably, the catchy title helps out a lot. Today, I clicked because he said he had a secret to share about getting attention. It just happens that yesterday I listened to a webinar where one of the take aways for me is that you have to earn attention and now here’s Mitch saying he knows the secret.
    Well, I don’t think any real secret about getting attetion was revealed in this post Mitch, but, I enjoyed reading it anyway. It seems that the conclusion of the getting people to click and read is that there is no real solid way. It’s a crap shot. Just do what seems to be working at the time and use a lot of different techniques.

  17. I love the above: “drunk people behaving badly also get a lot of attention.”
    Trying to figure out the importance of the Klout score, PostRank, etc (and making sure they don’t define me) – I become wary of using headlines that are more attractive then descriptive. Obviously if they attract and don’t deliver – I’ll end up ignoring. I guess it comes down to fundamentally – why do we post, converse, or solicit conversation in the first place. If it’s to drive scores up – we may not have a long term impact. If it is to converse in something that we are truly passionate about – then the Secret to Getting Attention is to do what you’ve done in the past – and lead with consistency.

  18. Post Rank is a great tool Patrick, but remember, the more comments and
    more buzz on the blog will boost the ranking.. Sometimes, we get the blog at the “early” state.. Great post again Mitch!

  19. We are distracted and fragmented. We have the collective patience of a three year old and in our quest for choice we create more than we can handle. But to your point, it is not instead of it is in addition to so we grapple with daily personal dashboard.
    This reminds me of my years programming an alternative rock radio station. We had listeners who said we had sold out and weren’t alternative enough which is exactly when our ratings began to climb.
    As the social web grows so does our collective confusion of what it is and how we should act. But we still listen to hit music and buy things from unsolicited direct mail.
    Mark Zuckerberg is on 60 Minutes this Sunday and it’s a sound wager that the show will see the largest ratings it has had in a long while as we watch the social media wunderkind on network television.

  20. wow, this is what we have been talking about. I rarely watch 60 minutes but the mention of that kid being interviewed is compelling enough to make me tune in.

  21. I have never been good at grabbing attention and I absolutely suck at titles so I count on content and hope that my brand is strong enough to get repeat visitors. That said, it’s a long road uphill so I’m working on trying to create titles that attract people without sounding like I’m a car salesman.

  22. We live in a very time poor society now and the pace of life is showing no signs of slowing down. Show me people with aspirations and motivation, and I will show you people who have a lot on their plate and are time poor. The result is we have become a society of scanners and skimmers. The headlines and sub-headlines are critical to grabbing attention and drawing people in. As Mitch has rightfully pointed out, the content better live up to the expectations of the reader or will quickly be abandoned. Few people have time to read something of little relevance. It is my belief that the key to getting attention is to segment your audience and be very clear on what they value or may need. By being focused on this segment (the narrower the better) it becoimes much easier to write headlines and content that are attention grabbing and relevant. My 2 seconds worth….oops, gotta run!

  23. I am glad you mention PostRank, they provide very nice analytics for your own blog even in their free version, with daily email reports I find particularly full of useful information.
    You’re right in saying you really need to step up in order to grab the attention in an ever so crowded content world.
    Headlines are fundamental, and I too noticed that the most controversial ones get the most attention, standing out from the “white noise” of modern media.
    The downside is that sometimes people really exaggerate, pushing controversial headlines just for the sake of attracting audience, providing little to no value content once you open the post’s page. A tactic that doesn’t pay in the long term though, so I guess it all evens out in the end.

  24. People are drawn to drama and mystery.
    The most interesting conversations are about the challenges, triumphs and depressing times people have been through. When I listen to people who have it all together and life just goes swimmingly for them, I am bored. I move on. I think they don’t take enough risk.
    If someone tells me about their unfortunate circumstances and i think wow, it sucks to be you… this is an interesting conversation. It’s almost like you have to figure out why things went wrong and see if there is a next step for them.
    I walk away from conversations like this ( ie- a lady i spoke with the other day whose son is bipolar and in the hospital) and I remember them sometimes a year later and think I wonder, how they are doing now?

  25. Timing is everything. On top of that, just because there are not a lot of comments, it doesn’t mean it’s not a killer post. A lot of times comments are generated because the content is open-ended.

  26. So true… it was about the evolution of publishing. If we can change it (and now we can), it’s sad that we resort back to what we know vs. pushing forward. It we think that all tabloids make us dumb, why do we succumb to using those tactics to draw attention.
    It’s the same for Podcasting… why do we make it so much like traditional radio?
    Human nature… I get it πŸ˜‰

  27. I’m the same way and I’d agree that most human beings are as well.
    There’s one caveat: certain people are so good at what they do that the title means little to me. I’ll read anything they do… granted this list is small.

  28. Hype works if it delivers… there has to be a real payout in the meat of the content. I think we would all agree that there’s nothing worse than a provocative headline and no real content to back it up.

  29. But, let’s look at that first step? You need to grab attention and you need to deliver. How do you get people to take that first step into one of your restaurants and to take that first bite of the burger? You can’t do it by being “plain”… can you?

  30. There must also be some thought in terms of the type of content you’re publishing. There’s a huge chasm between short tidbits and long-form as well. The expectation is different as is the audience.

  31. We don’t like change… we don’t like inconsistency… we like things the way they are.
    With all of that, we go through amazing moments of innovation and, I believe the ability to publish this is one of them. Within that innovation we can and should be more creative.

  32. The scores are probably best used as a barometer of comparison… and nothing to get worried/stressed about. The idea to use the scores to figure out how well your content seems to play against others with similar types of content.

  33. There’s a reason that The Long Tail has both a big head and said long tail… I believe most people teeter between the two. We all love to watch the most generic of things but also drift off into our own little nooks and crannies. The truth is, we can all be easy to judge, but we’re all fairly similar in our ways.

  34. I love this line, “we have become a society of scanners and skimmers,” but if you head over to my 6 links post from this week, you’ll see a link from Hugh McGuire about the web is really winning big for in-depth and long content. Again, it takes all kind.

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