A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, on the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
– James Joyce, The Dead.
Why do people get bored reading on the Internet? We hear all the time that people read less, that the amount of information available on the Internet overwhelms us, and that social media is ruining our collective attention span.
But we like the Internet, its great– it leads us to great content, content that we wouldn’t have found any other way. And those pages and articles are what keep us coming back and what make us feel that the next blog we stumble across is going to be the best one yet.
We’ve all experienced that unquenchable search for something, anything to read that will grab our attention. Often times, that search ends in futility, in repeatedly refreshing social media pages, in boredom. What if its not that we can’t find the great content we think is out there, but that the stuff we’re reading is…well, just really boring?
Don’t take offense to this, but your average web copywriter is not James Joyce, Irish modernist novelist, writer of epoch-defining prose. Its paragraphs like the one at the top of the page that have spurred readers on through his massively dense books for the last hundred years, because they are well written and interesting.
(Did you read it? Really? Or did you glance at it, realize it was just a quote, and skip over it? Go read it.)
Readers look for paragraphs like these whenever they read, whether they are reading a novel, an article, a blog post, or even an email.
Yes, web copywriting is different than writing fiction. They do different things for the reader, happen in a totally different environment, and are aimed at a different goal. But that being said, they aren’t as dissimilar as you might think. They are both designed to engage the reader, to show you are smarter and better than your competition, and, most importantly, they are designed to sell. (The writers that say they’re in it just for the “art,” are just the ones who haven’t figured this last part out.)
A paragraph like the one at the top of the page is a good example. It comes from the very end of a short novella called The Dead, probably 60 pages long, about a very dull Christmas party thrown by a pair of old spinster sisters in Dublin. It’s not a very exciting story, and that’s coming from someone who likes it.
It is, however, a story people keep coming back to purely because it is good content. The repetition of “falling faintly and faintly falling,” lends 5 simple words a very poetic tune. The rhythm of the sentences is melodic and planned. The word choice is exciting and never dull. Sprinkled throughout the story are lines, turns of phrase, metaphors that make it worth reading.
Granted, Joyce was one of the masters of English letters. But what we lowly copywriters can learn from this Irish prodigal son is to put thought into every word we use and into every phrase we write. His work is a pleasure to read and it is this pleasure that is often missing from Internet copy.
SEO optimization is important. Keywords are important. Teaching the reader something and connecting with them on more than a buyer/seller level is important. But in an age where every middle-schooler is publishing to their blog via their smartphone from the cafeteria at lunchtime, it’s no wonder we as a people are getting bored on the Internet. The words we write are important, and with every anti-grammatical tweet or post that gets sent into the cloud we’re getting further away from that ethos.
We aren’t doing enough to make our words stand out, to make people want to read them. That’s why people are bored on the Internet. Imparting information is important, even critical, but it alone is not enough. Many of you might be thinking, “I don’t need to look at art everyday on the computer. I just want the information I need to get my job done.”
I’m not disagreeing with you. But, if given the chance and with all quality-of-information and professional-usefulness being equal, you’re telling me you wouldn’t prefer something well-written and pleasurable to the eye? I’m not buying that.
Traditionally, only the best and brightest, and the richest, had the privilege of assailing the rest of us with their written work. The amount of voices that went undiscovered in their lifetime due to the lack of a viable outlet is enormous. Today, on the other hand, the only reason someone goes unread or unheard is if readers just don’t have enough time to get to them.
We are bored on the Internet, and it’s our own fault. Anyone can publish content to the web and we haven’t been doing anything to separate ourselves. We’ve been playing down to the level of our competition, and that level is dangerously low. It’s time for that to stop. People are reading it, and it’s going to last. Whether you intend it or not, your name is going to be attached to your content long after you are. Don’t write things that are ‘good enough,’ or just to fill space on a page, or just because your blog hasn’t been updated recently. Just like Joyce was a writer, we are writers. Its time we all started acting like it.