Murderous mops are coming. Five seconds to live!

Four, three, two, one…

You’re still here.

Good news for both of us!

A typical website visitor has an attention span of just five seconds. So it wasn't you that was at risk of sudden death, but my content.

I've got to awaken your interest at once. And then I mustn't let it lapse. Boredom is the scourge.  And it kills in an instant. In that context, anything ordinary or everyday – ironically, anything ‘safe’ – suddenly becomes really dangerous, like a pair of cut-throat carpet slippersAs writers, we've always needed to grab attention early. (That’s why I titled this piece: “Murderous mops are coming!” rather than: “The five-second rule for creating engaging online content”.) But the digital age has made the practice more important than ever.

Take video on demand as an example. From the opening frames of your film, the viewer not only has the option to click elsewhere, they’re positively encouraged to do so. As your pre-roll ad starts to play on YouTube, the little box in the bottom right is already inviting the viewer to skip it in five seconds…four…three…two… another victim of the ‘vanilla’.

Death by depredatory drabness: killer cabbages everywhere.

We kept the five-second rule front of mind when we were editing our recent brand films for Aldermore. We knew from our earliest presentations that the core idea made for a strong and engaging visual. I have yet to meet the person, who on first sight of the 3-d pen in action, doesn't let out a little involuntary gasp when the pen line suddenly leaves the page and takes to the air, like the first plane in flight. (OK, the 3-D pen may not quite be an innovation to compare with the Wright Brothers’ exploits at Kitty Hawk – But still, you know you’re seeing something; something new and intriguing, whose full implications have probably yet to be realised. And above all, you’re seeing something very, very watchable)

From our first scripts to our final edits, we wanted that ‘take-off’ moment within the first five seconds. It was an approach that paid dividends, getting us 100,000 views within the first two weeks. (How’s that for grabbing attention early?).

Content creators everywhere: beware deadly dullness; malevolent mundanity; the savagery of sameness. The plain and the commonplace really will do you in. It’s like an army of homicidal holdalls, all out to get you.

If you’re thinking digitally, remember that tedium is more toxic than ever. The familiar is fatal; you’ll be hacked to death by the humdrum; like an insidious force of pernicious pasta.

Hook your audience in at once and there’s a good chance they’ll stick around to discover what it’s all about. Whether that means staying on your webpage, watching your video right through to the end frame…

…or making it as far as the last paragraph of your blog. But if you don’t awaken interest in those first seconds, you’ll be swiped away in a flash. Annihilated by ennui; lost to lethal lassitude; like being slain by barbarous backpacks and vindictive vegetables.