It’s Monday — that means it’s time to open up the mailbox and answer YOUR questions!

Humans today have a shorter attention span than a goldfish!

Or so the story goes…

I was going to write some kind of intro, but I kept giving away too much, so I’ve deleted all that.  And I’ll reveal my response to this AFTER today’s Mailbox Monday question.

And a quick reminder…  If you’d like YOUR most pressing question on growing your business answered, just send me an email at [email protected].

You might just see your question answered here in an upcoming issue.

Here’s today’s question…

Hi Roy,

What are the absolute must-do rules to have front and center when copywriting specifically for the short concentration span online audience?



Are you a goldfish?

I notice a really important assumption in that question, that has to be addressed.

So, I’m going to write about getting and keeping attention in a moment.

But first, let’s call out that assumption.

Namely, that we have short attention spans.

The click-happy online media and the eat-it-up pop psychology crowd loves this comparison.  First, that goldfish have short memory spans.  And secondly, that humans today — especially online — have an even shorter attention span.

But here’s the thing.

These assumptions are NOT TRUE!

Especially not as an absolute rule.

First, let’s talk about fish.  Turns out their memory ain’t so bad.  Fish learning and memory has been studied for over a century.  There are scientific papers going back to 1908!

And, in fact, fish have demonstrated similar learning patterns as mammals and birds.

So as fun as it is to make the assumption goldfish have a short memory…  And as much as that seemed to be proven by the adorably-forgetful Dory character in Finding Nemo…

Turns out that assumption was wrong.

And, so is the one about humans!

It’s fun to be a crotchety old geezer and rant about “kids these days”…

And here’s the thing.  Whenever you complain about how the world is going to hell, everybody will agree with you.

Because we seem to have this natural tendency to mythologize and idealize the past, to the detriment of the present.

However, it’s probably just a matter of perspective.

Because many of the same complaints lodged against “kids these days” was lodged against YOU, by your parents.

Great example: if you complain that phones are making people disconnect (but you love books), you should also know that the exact same complaints were leveled against books!

Universal truth: old people just like to complain!

(And although some of my audience would consider me quite young, I’m frequently the resident complaint-happy old person — just ask my family!)

So what about attention spans?

Here’s the thing…

There may be more DISTRACTIONS today, pulling us away in every moment…


Attention spans are STILL highly-dependent on circumstance, and probably are not decreasing at all.

The idea of a limited attention span presumes that it can’t be controlled.

So, for example, stick your audience in a movie theater, with no commercials, and no phones, and — if the “limited attention span” myth is true — they’re going to get up and walk out in the middle, because they just can’t sustain attention.

Does that happen?

Think about the last movie you went to in the theaters.

Was there a gradual exodus as the moviegoers hit their mythical shrinking attention threshold?

— 10 minutes in, those zero-attention kids start leaving…

— 15 minutes and the teenagers are out, too…

— The Millennials, as immature as they are, still manage to make it about 30 minutes…

— Generation Y is out in 45…

— Gen X lasts an hour…

Is this starting to sound ridiculous?

I hope so!

Because all it takes is looking for evidence AGAINST the short attention span myth to suddenly find all sorts of proof that there are many places where attention is SUSTAINED today…

What gives?

In the absence of a more compelling distraction, people will continue to pay attention for as long as they perceive something to be personally relevant and interesting!

I’ve had 100% viewership through the end of hour-plus webinars.

45- to 90-minute video sales letters are as effective today as they’ve ever been.

TV shows still last 30 to 60 minutes, sometimes longer.

Movies still regularly clock in at two hours.

Many books — both fiction and nonfiction — are still clocking in at hundreds of pages.

And so on, and so on.

As my friend Brian Kurtz said from stage at The Titans of Direct Response, praising my sales letter…

“There’s no sales letter that’s too long.  There’s no sales letter that’s too short.  There’s only sales letters that are too boring, and therefore, too ineffective!”

There’s an old Gary Halbert illustration that’s a bit crude, but makes the point quite nicely.

Gary said he could get you to read as much as he wanted.  100 pages?  Easy!  1,000?  Simple!

All he has to do is put this headline on the top, and then make sure every word fulfills on it…

“An intimate and explicit history of the personal sex life of [insert your name here]…”

Maybe I paraphrase, but you get the point.

With something so personal, you’re going to want to know what every word says.

(Gary also taught that we sort our mail over the trash can — if that’s not a great anecdote of the short attention advertising was already being given pre-internet, I don’t know what is!)

And heck, even if you suddenly find yourself in a distracting situation, you’re probably going to come back to your sex book before too long!

Which brings me to…

The keys to getting and sustaining attention today…

Time to bring this around to something practical.

Because while our capacity for attention hasn’t changed, the sheer volume of distractions has.

So the question is: how do you deal with this?

  1. Make your messages ultra-targeted.

It’s always been true that the better you target, the better reception your message will get.  That continues to be true today.  If I, your prospect, don’t feel like you’re speaking directly to me about my needs, wants, and desires, I won’t let you waste my time.

Speak to the passionate core of your audience, and give them everything they’ll eat up.  This is far better than trying to water down and limit yourself in the hope that everybody will read what little you say.

  1. Say interesting shit.

I know.  Maybe the cussing is unnecessary.  But this is one of those rare cases when I do it to underscore a point.  Maybe the lack of attention you’re getting is because you’re not doing or saying anything worth paying attention to.  (That’s not personal to you Garry, but general to anybody making this complaint.)

Your audience WANTS something to pay attention to.  They’re infinite-scrolling Facebook for something to take them away from their dreary existence, to hold their attention long enough that they can momentarily forget about their life of quiet desperation.  If you’re not the most interesting thing in their day, of course they won’t let you keep their attention.

  1. Isolate the user experience.

Think about this.  If you present a long-form video ad in the Facebook news feed, what are the immediate options available?  It takes almost nothing to keep scrolling, and let their attention wander.  However, if you get them off Facebook, and even out of their browser into your webinar platform, what does that do to their ability to let their attention wander?

For this reason, the exact same message in a webinar versus in a Facebook video is likely to have much higher viewer engagement and completion rates.

Moving your prospects into an environment you control and in which you minimize distractions will go a long way to helping you maintain attention.

  1. Tell them to pay attention.

This is pretty simple.  And surprisingly effective.

If you tell them to shut off all their distractions, it will help, at least long enough for your message to maintain or lose attention on its own merits.  If you’re not worth paying attention to, this tactic won’t save you.  But if you are, it will ensure you have as much attention as possible.

  1. Write in clear and simple language.

This was as true before the internet as it is today.  If you make a prospect work to read and understand your marketing, you will suppress readership and response.  Even sophisticated markets appreciate you expressing your ideas clearly and concisely.

Ideally, you’ll write below the 8th grade level.  Which means short, simple, punchy sentences.  Short paragraphs.  Direct language.

Don’t use a university word when a grade school word will do.

A final point…

Remember: give a buyer everything they need to respond.

Most direct response marketing relies on very low response rates to be successful.

While we love much higher conversion rates, most high-volume direct response is happy with 1% to 5% conversions (depending on all sorts of factors).

Now let’s assume you’re a door-to-door salesperson and you know that 1 in 20 houses will buy (that’s 5%).

If you’re doing that, you’re going to try to figure out ASAP who will give you the time of day, and who won’t.

If they shut the door on you, or politely decline your pitch in the first few moments, you tally them in the “won’t buy” column and move on.  You’re happy that you found out quickly that they’re one of the 19 that won’t buy.

But then you get to a house where they’re interested.  They like what they hear early on, when you hook them with your intro.  They’re nodding their head to your promise.  And as you lay out your sales proposition, they’re genuinely eager.

They have objections, which you recognize as buying questions, and so you take your time to really answer them.

How long should you spend with this person?

Should you assume that people today have a short attention span, so if you go over 21 minutes in their house, presenting your pitch, that you should bug out, and add them to the non-buyers list?

Or are you going to stick with them and give them every pitch, point, and answer they need to feel confident placing their order with you?

The Pareto Principle (otherwise known as 80/20) says that there are a vital few and a trivial many.  Your role in selling is to serve the vital few: the buyers.  And ignore the trivial many: the non-buyers.

When it comes to copy, that means you give them all they need, and accept that anyone who wasn’t going to buy anyway will probably complain that your copy is too long.

Still reading?

Turns out you have a longer attention span than a goldfish.  We’re 1,805 words in, which if you read five words per second in your head, took you six minutes to read.

And if you skipped to the bottom?  Well, the contents of this article reveal a shocking truth about your sex life!

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr