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5 Easy, Text-Only Tricks To Get Your Articles Read


It’s a fact:

Most people who click on your articles don’t read them.

Don’t blame it on short attention spans. Long before social media distractions or 24/7 cable news cycles, eye-tracking studies showed that print newspaper readers viewed photos, headlines, ads and captions — in that order — before they even looked at the text of stories. If they even looked at the text of stories.

A sexy headline or stunning image may attract the initial clicks, but if readers aren’t strongly interested, it’s a losing gamble to get your articles read.

The Claw

Compelling images help, but you don’t need photos to grab attention of readers.

You can improve your odds. 

  • You don’t need vibrant artwork.
  • You don’t need the best-ever website design.
  • You don’t need to be a stellar writer.

All you need are these quick, easy text-only tricks:

1. Estimate the reading time.

Estimating the reading time sets expectations. Have you noticed this trend on sites like Medium?

When they’re busy, people may be more willing to commit to a thorough 4-minute read; they’ll save the 14-minute read for later.

Just do the math (average reading speed is 200 words per minute) or use the simple Read-O-Meter tool. Then plop the estimated reading time at the top of an article. No developer required.

As soon as you see how quickly your your bounce rates improve, I bet you’ll get a developer involved.

2. Use numbers in lists.

You already know that online articles with headlines starting with numbers, especially odd numbers, get more clicks. People know what to expect.

Numbers also encourage people to read your entire article — or at least skim for the main point of each number. That’s because people feel good when they complete the task of reading a numbered list. As Maria Konnikova writes for the New Yorker, “Once we click, lists tap into our preferred way of receiving and organizing information at a subconscious level; from an information-processing standpoint, they often hit our attentional sweet spot. … In other words, lists simply feel better.

“The process is self-reinforcing: we recall with pleasure that we were able to complete the task (of reading the article) instead of leaving it undone and that satisfaction, in turn, makes us more likely to click on lists again.”

The psychological power of the numbered list is at work on you right now. This article’s headline promised 5 things. I stopped the numbers in the subheads at 4. Most people will skim the numbered subheads, see the missing one and think I made a mistake without reading the article.

The real text-only trick No. 5? Use bullet points whenever possible. They’re text, but they act like tiny visuals and automatically draw the eye.

3. Write burlesque subheads.

A well-written subhead doesn’t strip naked. It dances burlesque, revealing just enough to keep your readers’ eyes locked on your words.

Don’t use subheads as boring summaries of the next few paragraphs. Do use subheads as provocative introductions to the next few paragraphs.

Take a look at this PDF of a Pulitzer prize winning article to see how just two subheads propelled the story of a mass murder. You don’t need material that dramatic, either. See how Sonia Simone pulls off the burlesque subhead act when she explained Copyblogger’s decision to close comments.

With frequent subheads that tease later action, you’re more likely to get your articles read to the end.

4. Highlight unexpected quotes.

Every print graphic designer has used a quote to attract attention in a design. Our eyes are drawn to things that aren’t part of the overall flow. A quote highlighted in a big block of text has that kind of jarring-in-a-good-way effect.

You can do the same thing online with the blockquote tag. Kick it up by using a quote your reader wouldn’t expect.

If your website template doesn’t have a good design for quotes, but you still want to draw attention, use bold or italics or all caps. Branding expert Erika Napoletano does this frequently when she rants online. For example, she highlighted this statement in an article about leadership, or, more precisely, lack of leadership:

I know six-year-olds that know that licking a stack of taco shells is a task on the ABSOF**KNGLUTELY NO list.

Here’s her article, in case you’re curious about what prompted that gem. Note: she uses strong, probably NSFW language. Depends on your work.

What do you think? Have I made my case that you don’t need stunning artwork or immersive design or outstanding writing to get people to read your entire article? Did you read all the way to the end? If so, leave a quick comment.

And if you think I forgot trick No. 5… go back and read trick No. 2 🙂

Photo of glasses by Jeff Golden used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Photo of little hand by Brooke Raymond used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License



As Director of Marketing and Customer Experience at Raven, Arienne Holland divides her time between marketing, communications and understanding developers. Before Raven, Arienne spent more than a decade as an editor and graphic designer for Gannett. She’s a factoid junkie, typography aficionado and middle child who just wants everyone to get along.
  • RavenArienne

    No comments yet?! I must have failed! 😉

  • A very much cool article Arienne.

    Really the whole article is very nice. I didn’t know the fact that reader can read 200words/minute.

    This might really help me in crafting my next article. I really knew that odd numbered list post get more attention than even number and this article blowed away my myth.

    Thanks for the Read-o-meter. This would really help in scoring awesome article for my next blog post.

    Thank you Arriene and have a great day!

    PS: Arienne, having no comments on the article doesn’t means you’ve failed. Most people read article without sharing or leaving a comment. I really want to tell you its very wrong if you judge an article by comments posted on it.

    Anyways I have found this article submitted on Kingged.com where I have commented and Kingged it.

    • RavenArienne

      Read-O-Meter is great! And thanks for the comment about comments 🙂

  • I never think about the reading time, so this is revealing for me. 5 minutes or less is the best so I think that is 200 to 250 words if we estimate. While numbers or bulleted list is perfect to attract the reader’s eye. It will look like the focal point if you use the text only post.

    I found this post shared on Kingged.com, the Internet marketing social site, and I “kingged” it and left this comment.

    • RavenArienne

      If you like 5 minutes or less, then you’re looking at 1,000 words or less. It’s 200 words per minute, though that can differ based on your personal skill level. Thanks for the comment!

    • samcki

      Articles with less than 250 words is not SEO friendly either, so i would say 250+ words is something you should have in mind, also remember the semantics with H1, H2 and H3 tags – and if you`re adding pictures and links in your article you always should remember title=, alt= and if the link should be nofollow (depending on the destination)

      All in all this article is an good indication on how good content should be represented, but i would also reccomend a bit more linespacing and using an easy to read font (that fits with your webdesign)

  • SheilaDP

    I’d say, 250+ words for SEO purposes. But write it in such a way that readers will still get the gist of the article within the first 200 words especially for those with short attention span.