Engaging a Distracted Audience

Note: This post was originally published on Dukeo when I was a contributor there. 

There’s a common saying about audience amongst web developers:

Always design as if the user is looking at your website with only one eye.

This means that we are responsible for creating content in an age where people have at least 5 different tabs open on their browser, a few applications running and other tasks that need accomplished. In that light, it’s not just about web design. It’s about our networks, our content and how we appeal to our audiences.

The sad truth is that we are already at a disadvantage. Instead of just creating our content and putting it out there for all to see, we have to make it worth seeing and people have to know about it. We have to make our audiences aware, intrigued and engaged.

What we deliver to our networks should pull in the attention required to absorb at least some of its qualities. That’s why we put so much work into what we do online. We want so badly for people to care. It’s time to make that happen, even if we are engaging a distracted audience.

The most important aspects of what we’ll consider today are with regard to understanding your audience, web design, compelling content, and social media use.

Consider the Audience

What is the definition of audience? In this case, it’s every visitor, reader and user of what you create. As a user of the Internet yourself, you have some responsibilities as a content curator. Of course, you are supposed to be working on making what you publish the best it can be.

The truth is that as long as you are always making an attempt to improve via presentation, organization and comprehension you are on the right track. Step into the shoes of the people you are publishing content for. What you will see are the things you look for yourself when finding materials online. Something has to capture your attention in order to make it worth your while, and it’s no different for other people.

Value the Whole Audience

You want your content to be enjoyed by as many people as possible, which means your content should have a universal appeal. At the very least, the appeal should extend throughout the niche you are a part of, and in turn, be able to convert new users into regular users.
Ask others what they truly think. Showing your appreciation for outside suggestions is a direct appeal to the users themselves. This is an important aspect of building a network that truly considers what you do important.


Experimentation can take numerous forms. You can come up with strategies yourself, or make a more calculated effort to research what seems to work best and implement accordingly. I recommend the latter as a time saver and the former as the most genuine learning experience. A combination of both is usually necessary because it allows you to cultivate strategies that work in addition to strategies that fit the needs of YOUR content. In turn, audience analysis helps you find out what works best.

Seek Resolution

The problems you encounter are sometimes unique, but not so unique that the answer hasn’t already been uncovered by others in your situation. If you are frustrated by a lack of traffic, engagement or interaction your only true problem-solving mechanism will be your resolution to fix what isn’t working.
Set goals each week to address something you haven’t addressed before, to try something new or ask your audience what they think is working best. If you can seek out answers to problems you are heading in the right direction, but if you can develop a sense of determination to address your problems before they manifest you’ll be thanking yourself when you have more time to work on growing the audience rather than appeasing its demands.

Here’s the bottom line. An audience will display its worth almost instantly – especially if your audience isn’t too large, yet. You can get informed and articulate opinions in small groups early on, so start asking for them!

Audience and Web Design

Your website is a tricky thing because all websites are different in some way or another. Even if you’re using something that is pre-formatted, you’ve probably got it developed enough to make it stand out from the others. Of course, this aspect can always be improved, making it an important first step to the design of your website.

Now, don’t let this scare you. Making a unique website doesn’t mean tons of coding you may or may not know much about. For new bloggers, especially, this may seem daunting. Just know that the important thing is to do something refreshing. It certainly doesn’t happen overnight, but effort will go a long way.

As a blogger myself, I’ve noticed some things on other websites that I’m not a fan of and choose to avoid on my own site. The following won’t necessarily reflect your dislikes, but they’re things that come off as needy, overbearing and annoying.

Obnoxious Gimmicks

If I land on your website and am immediately greeted by a splash sign-up form, pop-up or an intrusive advertisement there is a 95% chance I am going to leave in that moment. Give the user time to see what you’re about, and position these tools more strategically. They’re not bad inherently, they’re bad because they ask too much of the user immediately.

It’s like awkwardly hugging someone you don’t know. Hugs are great, but I want to hear what you have to say about yourself and your content before I make a commitment to what you present.

The fact is, your audience is going to notice things like this immediately. Making that first impression a great one is one of the most important things you can do. If you want to use splash sign-up forms, trigger them once a visitor has finished reading an article. If you are going to display e-mail subscription forms make sure it doesn’t appear obligatory.

Your content should compel the user to sign up for more, not force them into the situation before they know what you have to offer. Finally, your ads shouldn’t dominate the valuable content spaces of your site. Replace these intrusions with something engaging, and re-position the ads strategically. Make them noticeable and intriguing, but not dominant.

No Organization

No one wants to scavenge for your best material. Sometimes pride gets in the way of organization in the way that it only displays what you think is best. The better strategy is to display what your audience thinks is best evidenced by the content that is visited, read and interacted with most often.

Showing off what your audience enjoys isn’t just about displaying your most successful efforts, it’s about gratifying the user for their time and their loyalty. Reflections that show you understand who your content is for will only pull in more interest.

Furthermore, you are responsible for coming across as somewhat professional. Your best content should naturally be easy to find, but the rest of the website should be geared towards the audience and easy to navigate. Make things polished enough for the user, and unique enough for your purposes. You don’t have to be a perfectionist, just show that you care about their experience on your site.

No Personality

Organization is important, but not necessarily as powerful as personality. What you represent in the material you publish should be apparent, and people will presume much about your character from way it is conveyed. Using author biographies, an about page or inviting them to learn more about you on social media are a few examples. All are great ways to show friendliness and a connection to those you are involving.

Compelling the Target Audience

Being a good author means you have a decent understanding what the audience wants. Being a great author means you have a knack for fulfilling those wants and showing them things they didn’t necessarily know they were looking for. Your goal should be making an impression, but it should be an impression that compels anyone to read on, interact and continue visiting. If there is any chance of converting your visitors into regular users it starts with this very aspect.
The responsibility you have as a new website owner – blogger, business or brand – is one of improving your methods. The responsibility as an experienced website owner is one of not only improving, but making sure that you are constantly coming up with ways to improve your formula.

If you have something that works, I don’t recommend you change it. I do, however, recommend finding news ways to integrate experimental strategies that have positive potential. It’s like your favorite musician writing effective albums each time because they have a solid sound. What makes it interesting are slight alterations that give each release something new and exciting.


Display what you know. Your audience is entitled to your service because you are asking them to pay attention. Getting to the point of what you have to say and being informational, yet concise, is hugely important. In addition to providing adequate information, your writing should contain prompts to explore. Linking other content, using images and circulating useful resources make this easy and interactive. It’s a bonus if you’re a good writer, too.

Beg the question. An audience shouldn’t just exist, it should be integral. Involving your audience by asking them for comments, opinions or other forms of input are simple forms of engagement that go a long way.

Interact genuinely. There isn’t much point is asking for interaction from the audience if you don’t respond to that interaction. You should be addressing concerns and replying to every comment that you can. Show that you care and a genuine sense of who you are can be developed. Not only that, but you can cultivate reasons for users to return for reasons beyond content itself. This will allow you to achieve meaningful engagement on all levels.

The Biggest Audience of All

With social media, people are bombarded with opportunities to see new websites, new content and meet new people every single day. Hundreds of thousands of opportunities, really. Your job in this realm is about making it easy for people to connect with you. Displaying your networks on your website and using them to engage and connect is like having a global audience at your fingertips.

the biggest audience
Sharing your content increases visibility, reaches out to new potentials and creates a circle that actually cares about the things you do.

I also want to reiterate a point from my article on tackling social media: Big networks are great and you can really consider the whole of every social media network an opportunity to connect with people. However, the largest network doesn’t always mean it’s the most engaged network. Reach out to people in small groups that help you articulate areas to improve.

When will you know your social media usage is paying off?

Being an active part of the community is the first step to noticing the response certain networks can create. The next step is analyzing where you are most effective. If you can’t pinpoint the things you’re doing correctly, let’s figure out what works most of the time.

Involving people on your website is just like involving them in social media. Even better, use social media as an extension of the opportunities to get involved on your site. Show off new articles and ask for comments and criticism. Display new projects and opportunities that are exclusive to those who are involved in your networks. Polls, contests and featuring users can help achieve this opportunity.
Sharing is more than pasting a link into a status update. Get in tune with the nature of every network and help yourself by attaching a bit of yourself and your understanding of the things you share.
Trying new things is part of the experimentation process. Establish yourself in a new audience network, share the content of others and pay attention to what is interacted with most.
Learning these strategies is a matter of practice. The payoff is found in the vast potential your audience has, and why not look for it in the biggest audience of all?

Your Challenge

It’s easier to read about the act of creating an audience than it is to begin putting each strategy to use. If you’re here, it means you care about the content you create. You want to improve the way you interact online, especially to help promote the content you work so hard to make available. Either today or tomorrow, I challenge you to put one new strategy to use.

Consider what you have, and how it can be better. Each day holds a new challenge you can begin to conquer. You will be a stronger content curator and one step closer to having an audience that shows a return on investment. The time and effort you put into what you create is rewarded by those who find it intriguing and worth a few minutes of their day.