How to Address Attention Spans with SEO in 2020

It’s hard to remember the last time there was a technology advancement as fast-paced and disruptive as SEO. Even though Google is always changing their algorithms, it feels like our job has never been harder than right now. There are solutions on how to solve this issue, however they come with tradeoffs that businesses need to decide if they’re willing to make before implementing into their marketing strategy.,

In the year 2021, human attention spans are predicted to be around 10 seconds. In 2020, we need to start addressing that with SEO.

Is the typical person’s attention span dwindling? Is there such a thing as a “goldfish attention span”?

There is no indication that our individual attention spans are shortening, contrary to common opinion. The goldfish attention span myth has been around for over two decades. Since then, the attention span of a real goldfish has mysteriously increased from 5 to 9 seconds in popular debate, while the human attention span has reduced from 12 to 8 seconds.

So, when it comes to attracting people’s attention, what should content writers and SEO professionals be most worried about?

We’ll go over some of the science behind attention span and how it relates to SEO difficulties in this post.

According to Merriam Webster, attention span is the amount of time that a person (or a group of people) can focus or stay engaged in something. 

According to the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine: 

“Our cognitive capacity to selectively allocate our attention permits us to focus just some aspects of the world while filtering out others.” 

Both internal and environmental variables influence our attention span. Internal variables include things like genetics and human biology, whereas external influences include the parts of the environment that we choose to focus on or ignore. 

The multitude of distractions along the path makes it difficult to maintain extended attention spans. 

While there is no solid evidence that the human attention span is diminishing on a biological level, there is no disputing the increase in potential distractions, particularly when using a computer or smartphone.

The Guardian reported on a research from a few years ago that looked for changes in global collective attention and found that greater availability of information was linked to higher rates of change in collective attention. Here’s an example:

“When the scientists looked at the worldwide top 50 hashtags on Twitter on a daily basis, they discovered that peaks were becoming steeper and more frequent: in 2013, a hashtag lasted in the top 50 for an average of 17.5 hours. In 2016, this will progressively reduce to 11.9 hours.”‘

However, we are witnessing an increase in the consumption of long-form information. When individuals are focused on something they care about, they are less likely to be distracted. Long-form material is still relevant as long as it’s useful and entertaining.

In 2006, just 22% of the adult population in the United States listened to podcasts, compared to 75% in 2020. 

The same is true for videos. In 2006, the average duration of a YouTube video was 2.4 minutes, however in 2018, it was 15.1 minutes. You may wonder why short TikTok videos are so popular. 

Basically, amusing people on TikTok is one thing, but discussing complicated topics such as physics on YouTube is another. You may, however, do both: upload a lengthier, brainiac-style movie to YouTube and a 60-second scientific experiment video to TikTok; this way, you can intelligently customize your content to each channel and interact with your audience in the most effective manner possible.

Why Is It So Difficult to Measure Attention Span? 

The attention span of a person varies based on their age and the setting in which they are working. Making your material briefer for each channel and getting into too much depth should not be your primary objective – it will not help you. When it comes to attention span, your ideas, context, and user purpose all play a significant influence.

A social media message promoting a new podcast, for example, should be brief while stressing its value to the user, increasing the likelihood that they will click on the link to the podcast. Because the newsfeed on a social media network is continually overwhelmed with fresh diversions, it’s critical for such a message to stand out (posts). This is an example of how the attention span works.

The second scenario is when a user clicks on a link in a social media post and begins listening to a podcast; at this point, their concentration is at an all-time high since the user is just attempting to determine if the podcast is as intriguing as it was described in the social media post.

Finally, we may examine videos more closely. We can see how popular the short video format has grown, particularly among those aged 16 to 24. Surprisingly, the average daily time spent by a user on TikTok is 52 minutes, which is about equivalent to the time spent viewing an episode of a favorite program on a streaming platform. 

The attention span is the same in both circumstances, but the material type, distribution method, and user purpose are all different. TikTok consumers consume little content entities over a lengthy period of time, but an online show’s target audience consumes a much larger piece of material over the same time period. Because the user is engaged with the material, both function well.

How-to-Address-Attention-Spans-with-SEO-in-2020In 1999, a Google SERP for the search term “travel” had 14994 results.

Are there more distractions than ever before, making it more difficult to maintain focus as a marketer? SERPs have changed dramatically over time. After hitting the Search button, the user may see the following rich results:

  • The most popular tales

  • Instantaneous responses

  • Image and video collections

  • Carousels on Twitter

  • PPC ads

  • Ads, etc.

How-to-Address-Attention-Spans-with-SEO-in-2020In 2020, a Google SERP for the search term “travel” will look like this, with over 5 billion results.

On a single page, these rich results may appear in many configurations. Some results may annoy the user, while others will provide them with just what they are looking for. The user will have to spend some time navigating among distractions in order to find the correct information. As a result, digital marketers should investigate the availability of SERP features in a target keyword list and devise a strategy for optimizing for or around those particular SERP blocks.

When it comes to SEO, the first problem is identifying the most appropriate audience for your content. This may be accomplished by doing keyword research to identify the most relevant questions for the services you provide.

Choose the Correct Keywords

with the help of SEMrush’s Keyword Magic Tool

ADS illustration

The second issue is to keep their attention despite all of the distractions on the SERP, which include other organic links, SERP features, and adverts. To stand out on the SERP, you may optimize your titles and descriptions, adopt schema, and use empathy.

There are also non-user-friendly website aspects that put people’s patience to the test, such as:

To avoid any possible patience-testers, make sure your website is up to date, free of broken links and pages, and user-friendly on a frequent basis. 

Using tried-and-true storytelling concepts, you can overcome the issue of keeping someone’s attention.

When John Steinbeck advised writing for a “audience of one,” he expressed it simply. 

“Forget about your broad audience. For one thing, the faceless, nameless audience will terrify you, and for another, unlike the theatre, it does not exist. When you write, you only have one reader. I’ve discovered that writing to one person—a real person you know or an imagined one—can assist.”

1636649098_828_How-to-Address-Attention-Spans-with-SEO-in-2020How to Tailor an SEO Strategy to the Attention Span of Users

It may be more difficult to really sympathize with and write organically when you write (or podcast, vlog, etc.) as if you’re speaking to a vast, fictitious crowd of your target audience. 

Instead, write as though you’re speaking with a friend, and if you’re in SEO, you’re assisting your buddy in finding something they already want. 

Ann Handley puts it this way: 

“Assume the reader knows nothing, but don’t make the mistake of thinking the reader is ignorant.”

Here are some pointers and how-tos for tailoring your SEO efforts and content development to the attention span of your users.

How to hold your audience’s attention and relate with them:

  • Ask questions and pay attention to what your audience has to say.

  • Use social media to conduct polls.

  • Find out what your audience’s objectives, interests, and even hobbies are.

  • Make a request for feedback on your product or website.

  • Ascertain that each piece of content adds value to the target audience.

  • Overselling should be avoided.

  • Overwriting should be avoided.

  • Include headers and lists to make text skimmable.

  • Videos may have timestamps and chapters added to them.

  • When appropriate, use GIFs and photos, but don’t go overboard.

With SEMrush, you may appeal to attention spans in the following ways:

  • To identify particular queries, long-tail keywords, and hot subjects that your audience is interested in, use the Keyword Magic Tool and Topic Research.

  • With SEMrush’s Social Media Toolkit, you can practice social listening.

    • Connect your Facebook account to Social Media Analytics to examine demographics and statistics about your Facebook audience (such as when they are online, their age and gender, and so on). 

    • To get comments from your followers, schedule your postings in Social Media Poster. 

    • With Social Media Tracker, you can see how your social media rivals are appealing to your shared audience and see how people react to their top postings. 

  • To ensure that your material is reader-friendly, use SEO Writing Assistant to analyze its readability, tone of voice, and more.

  • Set up the Brand Monitoring tool to examine how your audience discusses your brand name or a subject linked to your company, with mentions updated on a daily basis.

  • Connect your Google Analytics account to Content Audit to view high-bounce-rate content pages and other content performance data on your site.

The following are some measurements that can help you determine how effectively your website maintains attention vs. distraction:

Google Analytics, YouTube Analytics, and SEMrush’s Content Audit may all be used to track these KPIs. 

1636649101_408_How-to-Address-Attention-Spans-with-SEO-in-2020How to Use SEMrush Tools to Appeal to Attention Spans With Engaging Content

We contacted other colleagues in the SEO profession for their thoughts on the subject and received some excellent advice. 

VASHI’s Head Of Search, Ric Rodriguez:

We used to have to obtain new info in long-form forms since that’s all that was accessible at the time – books, newspapers, etc. – but now we have a little gadget that we carry about with us that is constantly connected – and thinking – for us. 

Search engines are capitalizing on a change in our expectations that has been developing since the advent of the internet – a demand for answers immediately, with new intelligent services serving as a catalyst – while they deliver format innovation.

Remco Tensen, Founder of Remco Tensen Consulting and Technical SEO Consultant: 

It’s tough to pinpoint the underlying reasons. We’re taking a backwards approach to things. As a result, incorrect assumptions are made. It’s difficult to define how much of it is a result of culture, how much is a result of training, and how much is just a novel recorded reaction to something that hasn’t been attempted before. 

Abhiraj Das Ghosh, Digital Marketer & Strategist:

Due to the integration of features such as the “Zero Result” and other micro-data by search engines, searchers are increasingly depending more on actions rather than visiting the site. 

For example, on a client’s site, we just added some schema. In the first quarter, impressions and rankings increased by roughly 23%, but the CTR plummeted dramatically. Users could now access the information directly from the SERP, eliminating the need to visit the site and search for it.

David Amerland, Author, Corporate Speaker & Analyst:

We all like to ingest smaller morsels of knowledge that pay off rapidly. Attention spans have been consistent throughout the previous century or so, according to a report published in The Guardian in 2019 (complete with links). Things that are genuinely essential to us will always be at the forefront of our minds. 

Grant Simmons, SEO strategist, Futurist, Speaker & Author:

The white-space beloved by designers has its place, although not always on the web. Removing the acres of white space that many designers love to include into a page design while retaining a visually well-structured layout is critical to user satisfaction. 

“A web site visitor is a lot like a monkey searching for one thing: a banana,” says Seth Godin in his excellent book “The Big Red Fez.” Your visitor will leave with a simple click on the ‘Back’ button if that banana isn’t easy to see and obtain.


Hero photos that take up the full screen, puzzles that keep users guessing, too much imagery that exhausts the brain, topic-unrelated information, overselling, and SEO aspects all get in the way of my high-quality user experience.


Unnecessary videos and flashy visuals


The use of schema markup allows search engines to deliver rapid responses in the form of lists, tips, and other content that may lead visitors further into the website.


Schema can help you get Featured Snippets, which may assist you answer the query in the SERP and/or direct readers to the most relevant section/element of your content.


Schema forces you to consider information structure, which is clearly beneficial to readers. Like Google, you can utilize structured data and link it to site features. It may be used to create analytics loops, dynamically manage and monitor entities on your website, enhance internal search, and change internal links, among other things.


Begin by listening to speeches delivered by well-known politicians and internet influencers. Pay attention to the language they use, the structures they use, the way they entice people in, and how they appeal to emotion. Obama is a great illustration of this. You’ll notice a speaker who employs speech patterns. Put them to the test in your copy.


Yes, start with one truthful statement while writing. It’s a Hemingway recommendation. I provide writing advice on Goodreads, but none of them compare to Hemingway’s devastatingly clear and excellent advice on how to get started.


From tales to TikTok, video has risen substantially as a method to obtain information fast and in an interesting manner. I believe this will continue to affect how we consume information in the future. We haven’t seen widespread adoption of smart glass technology, which has the potential to be omnipresent; nonetheless, Google just acquired North, a pioneering player in the sector, for an undisclosed reason. 


I believe that how search results are displayed has an impact on human behavior and interactions with them. Google claims that they want to provide answers faster, but I believe this is more of a Google’stickiness’ strategy, i.e. enticing people to return because the results are nice and presented in an easily consumable way.

The same may be said about site material. By concentrating on query fulfillment, value, and a pleasant experience, SEO professionals can encourage people to return to their site.

Content production and optimization are inextricably linked to the effectiveness of an SEO strategy that considers the user’s attention spans. Because digital trends, particularly in SEO, and user behavior are always changing, this is an ongoing process. There is no one-size-fits-all formula that will work for all sorts of content and distribution methods. You won’t always be able to keep the user’s attention, but you can make your material as interesting as possible.

To make the material genuinely engaging for the audience and stand out amid the internet distractions, each piece of content, platform, and channel for distribution should be treated separately. The goal is to understand user intent, SEO trends, and the best content forms and distribution channels for your ideas and goods.

Attention spans are getting shorter, and with that comes the need for SEO. With an attention span of a goldfish, it is important to have content that can be easily digested and understood by your audience.

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