5 Simple Ways to Build Reader Engagement in Seconds (and Maintain It)

Adrian Lacson
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Building and maintaining reader engagement is as important as grabbing people’s attention.

Consider this statistic: due to the mobile revolution, the average human’s attention span has decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2015. (That means goldfish are winning with a span of 9 seconds!)

Whether or not you believe in the statistic, getting your audience to consume your content is harder than ever in a world of fast-flowing information. It’s no longer enough to get audiences to click. We want them to read and consume our content.

Simply put, we want them “hooked” until the end.

Therefore, it’s important to create what legendary copywriter Joseph Sugarman calls a slippery slope where readers are bound to go through the entire piece.

So how do we keep them focused on the ad or the email? How do we make reading smooth and engaging? Consider these five ideas.

#1: Customer-Centric Copy - The Building Block of Reader Engagement

Readers open your article or email for one of two reasons:

  1. They’re curious, or

  2. They think they’ll get a benefit from reading your content.

So as you write, be mindful of the question “What’s In It For Me?” to keep your copy focused on your audience.

For example, you can start an article by setting the expectations readers will get. If you’re writing a sales page, consider talking a little more about the hook. In other words, let them know that you’ll deliver what your headline promises.

By reminding them why they’re consuming your content, you’re also reminding them of the implied benefit they’ll get if they continue reading.

This one principle is so important that it overrides the other four in this article.

I’m sure there are times when you took the extra time and effort to go through hard-to-read content if you knew you’d get something out of it. (But of course, don’t make this as an excuse to sacrifice readability - see below.)

#2: The Power of Questions

People’s brains are hardwired to find an answer to a problem. And because questions introduce a problem that needs an answer, readers will keep reading to find it.

They can instill curiosity. For example, the question “Did you see this yet?” will keep them reading to know whether they’ve already seen it.

Questions can also qualify readers: “Are you X?” This catches the attention of someone who qualifies in description X. In other words, qualifying questions target a specific audience and grab their attention.

Deeper questions that require more thinking would entice someone to keep reading to help him/her find the answer. For example: “Have you ever wondered why not all bodybuilders are strong in a combat situation?” To answer this, the audience will want to keep reading in order to help them get to a conclusion.

Whichever way you use them, questions sustain engagement because they force the brain to look for answers.

#3: Contexts and Events:

Related to Customer-Centric Copy (see above), shared experiences also build engagement. After all, those who are affected by an event will want to be “on the loop”.

A classic technique is to share a piece of global or national news and connect it to the problem you’re addressing. For example, if you’re catering to business executives, you can write something that relates to sales and the ongoing pandemic.

You can even focus on niche-specific news. Using the example above, you can write something about the latest trend in digital marketing.

If you have a clearly-defined audience, you can focus on their problems or their interests. Suppose you’re in the fitness industry and targeting older people. You can focus on the issues that are more prevalent with them - for example, exercises that promote energy, functional strength or mobility.

The key point here is to be relatable. And that naturally comes from knowing your audience well, especially with what exactly they're going through.

#4: Visual Appeal

For the 21st century reader, there’s nothing more unwelcoming than reading blocks upon blocks of words. This is because more words implies more reading effort.

It is the job of marketers to make the copy more visually appealing. Thankfully, this could be done in many ways.

You can start your article with a few punchy sentences to make reading easier in the beginning. Also consider adding more whitespace and be mindful of the font you’re using throughout the body.

To make your content less intimidating, you can chop paragraphs into sentences (which adds more whitespace). You can even chop some of those sentences into thoughts. This will make your copy sound conversational.

It is also helpful to add some media into your article. Ads get more engagement when they include an image or a video.

Overall, the visual appeal matters because it makes content easier to consume.

#5: Storytelling

There’s nothing like a good tale to get readers engaged with your content.

Stories have a unique ability to mentally transport people to whatever setting they depict. Add these with phrases that describe feelings and the senses - and the reader almost becomes part of those adventures.

The “once upon a time” technique is a classic way of transporting readers to any setting. Simply start with a time, a place, or both. The most obvious examples include “X years ago” or “in a town called Y”.

Want to add some emotional and dramatic shock in the beginning? Why not start the story in the middle of an intense scenario, then work your way from the beginning? This should spark more curiosity.

Personal brands and marketers like to begin with the end result which their target audiences like to get. For instance, if I’m selling a weight loss program, I can talk about my good physique, but mention that “it wasn’t always like this.” I then flashback to an initial point when I was once worse off - and work my way from there.

By following a structure like this, you catch the audience’s interest by showing them the results you have, then you create more curiosity with a flashback. As your story progresses, they’ll want to know how you got those results. (This becomes related to customer-centric copy - see above.) This method indirectly shows readers that it’s possible to attain the results (with the solution you’re selling).

In sum, stories are a great way to build reader engagement because they bypass any mental barrier through escapism and emotional connections.


Grabbing attention is one thing. Maintaining it is another.

After all, readers must go through your content before taking any action. To get readers to fully comprehend your message, marketers should make an effort to create the “slippery slope” in their copy.

Some of the best practices to build engagement include:

  1. Customer-centric copy

  2. Questions

  3. Contexts and events

  4. Visual appeal

  5. Story telling

Thinking of which method to use (let alone crafting it) may take additional time and effort. So consider hiring a professional copywriter to craft engaging content or proofread your existing work!

Tags:  reader engagement engagement reader's attention
Adrian Lacson

Adrian is a copywriter, closer and an aspiring consultant. He's also an international poet and an essayist, his writing background is very diverse, having both a creative and an analytical edge. He is now honing his copywriting skills while traveling around the world.

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