Three fading myths about digital content

For starters, forget the old "above the fold" digital design thinking—and abandon the idea of a magic word count.

BY Chris Blose
VP, Content, Imagination

Think back to every article or conference speech about digital content in the mid- to late 2000s. Chances are, they featured some good advice that holds up today, such as adding entry points and “chunking up” copy.

But for every nugget of wisdom that holds true, there’s plenty of old advice you should toss out the window. User behavior changes, and expertise has to evolve to match.

Below are a few examples of digital myths that are fading as fast as a retro Polaroid print.

Myth: Write short, or nobody will read your story

Remember the phrase “above the fold”? Past wisdom said that if your content wasn’t visible to users when they first hit a web page, those users weren’t going to scroll down to read it.

Fast-forward to 2017, and the idea of a fold or a magic word count ("Keep it under 500 words!") seems quaint. User behavior has changed. Readers used to the smartphone experience are willing to scroll—as long as you give them something worth the effort. Publishers are seeing engagement benefits from longer, deeper content. Longform digital experiences are not only abundant—they’re fruitful for establishing your expertise.

What’s still true: All that great advice about entry points still matters. Well-crafted article subheads still work to ease the reader experience and give search engines the info they need to make your content visible.

Myth: Magazines should “drive them to the web”

I can’t tell you how many meetings I sat through about a decade ago in which I heard this phrase. The thinking was that as digital emerged as the leading form of content consumption, print would play a supporting role as the web driver.

The issue with that thinking is twofold. First, if you’ve ever measured how many clicks you get from a CTA in a magazine, you know that they pale in comparison to other traffic drivers such as email and social posts. But perhaps more important, magazines provide a high-end, highly engaging experience unique to the medium. In an omnichannel program, they work better as tentpoles than entryways to the web.

What’s still true: Your print and digital content should indeed be complementary. But the connections and marketing opportunities should flow both ways, both print to digital and digital to print.

Myth: The iPad will save publishing

I was as excited as anyone else by the rise of the tablet magazine edition. I faithfully read early experiments such as Engadget’s Distro and was thrilled by the tiny immersive details that went into digital editions of Wired and other staples of my print pile.

The great tablet revolution failed to fully launch, though. Sales numbers never took off, and eventually, even major awards programs stopped recognizing tablet editions as a category worth … recognizing. Ultimately, magazine publishers who want to make their content shine in digital format are better served looking at the new creative options such as digital longform pieces.

What’s still true: Digital flipbooks were a stopgap technology before tablet editions came along, and they don’t really have a place in the modern publishing landscape. Publishing content on individual story pages rather than in a glorified PDF gives you the benefit of individual clickability, shareability and trackability that’s missing from the classic flipbook.

published: September 21, 2017

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