9 Ways People Respond to Your Content Online

Diagram showing 9 responses listed in this article.

Blogs and Twitter have almost eliminated any barrier to publishing. You have an idea and in a few minutes your thoughts can be online. Think about it – with every person thinking about more than 50,000 thoughts a day, producing online content can be simple.

Maybe. But simply churning out meaningless content does not guarantee that others will read what you write. Make this mistake and people will read what you write and write you off.

What’s the alternative?

Use your creativity to generate content that will inspire and transform the lives of the audience in a positive way. Remember that it costs time (and indirectly – money) for your audience to read what you write. And, they expect a good return for that investment.

You will know whether you are succeeding in influencing your audience in a positive way because the audience will tell you. No, maybe not directly but by the way they respond to your content.

So, here are the nine ways your audience will respond to your online content:

  1. Spam: If your content does not provide a reasonable ROII (return-on-investment for an interaction) for the reader or is self-serving or simply useless, the reader will mark it as spam. Posting something that may be assessed, as “spam” is the fastest way to losing credibility.
  2. Skip: The reader makes an assessment that he or she won’t lose much by reading it. In this case, the reader has not written you off yet but if you consistently create content that is worth “skipping,” the reader might write you off.
  3. Scan: The reader thinks there are only a few parts that are of relevance and wants to get right to the core of the content and skip the rest.
  4. Stop: The reader is touched by the article and stops to think about the article, it’s relevance and what it means to him or her personally and professionally.
  5. Save: The content is so good that the reader might want to re-visit this multiple times.
  6. Shift: The article is transformational. The reader is so deeply affected (in a positive way) by the article that it shifts some of their values and beliefs. In other words, this piece of writing will transform the reader and make him or her grow.
  7. Send: The content is not only useful to the reader but also to one or more people in the reader’s network. The reader simply emails the article or a link to it to people that he or she cares.
  8. Spread: The reader finds the article fascinating enough to spread it to anyone and everyone via a blog, twitter or the social networks that he or she belongs.
  9. Subscribe: This is the ultimate expression of engagement and a vote of confidence that you will continue to provide great content. When the reader wants to continue listening to your thoughts, he or she will subscribe.

Finally, here are a few things to consider before you post your next online content:

1. Understand Your Audience

Unless you are writing something for your private consumption, your audience should be the center of the focus and not you. The more you know about your audience, the better you can connect with them. Think about:

  • Who is your audience?
  • Why are they reading what you are writing?
  • What are their concerns in general and what are their concerns NOW?

2. Check Your Objective

Some questions to think about:

  • What is the purpose of your article?
  • What assessment do you want the reader to create by reading your article?

3. Unleash Your Creativity

You know the audience and you know the purpose of the article. Now the next step is to unleash your creativity and create something that will generate the kind of response that you are looking for.

Some questions to think about:

  • What would be unique (content, point-of-view etc.) in this article that will make the audience do what I want them to do?
  • How can you make this article “extremely relevant” to the current times?
  • What can you include that will increase the “longevity” of the article?

4. Learn from Feedback

You already know the nine ways that people respond to your online content. When people act the way they do, they are providing you valuable feedback. Keeping your emotions aside, learn from the feedback and incorporate this learning into your next article.

Background: An earlier version of this article was titled Skip, Scan, Stop, Save and/or Spread. Thanks to several people especially Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki and Kathy Hendershot-Hurd who helped me enhance the initial concept through their comments.

About the Author: Rajesh Setty is an entrepreneur, author and speaker based in Silicon Valley. Rajesh maintains a blog at Life Beyond Code. You can also find him on Twitter at @UpbeatNow.

How to get creative work done in an "always on" world

Productivity for Creative People

Mark McGuinness' latest book Productivity for Creative People is a is a collection of insights, tips, and techniques to help you carve out time for your most important work – amid the demands and distractions of 21st century life.

“Of all the writers I know, I have learned the most about how to be a productive creative person from Mark. His tips are always realistic, accessible, and sticky. It’s not just talk, this is productivity advice that will change your life.”

Jocelyn Glei, author and Founding Editor, 99U

More about Productivity for Creative People. >>

Responses to this Post

Sites That Link to this Post


  1. I have been working on my blog and found that there is few response from visitors and no feedback, no comments and no subscription.

    Reading your article I realized that I have to improve a lot in writing my blog and Tips mentioned sounds useful.

    Anyway, Thanks a lot


  2. Hi Rita,

    If you want to improve your blog writing (and attract more visitors, comments, subscribers) then you should check out http://www.copyblogger.com, which is edited by Brian Clark from the Lateral Action team. It’s full of solid advice that dovetails nicely with the principles Raj lays out here.

    I highly recommend it – just in case Brian’s too modest to mention it 🙂

  3. Hi Rita,

    In addition to Copyblogger (which is a treasure chest) you can also take a look at the book “ProBlogger” by Chris Garrett and Darren Rowse.

    While the name says ProBlogger, the principles are applicable to ALL bloggers.


  4. Great post Raj. I just discovered this blog thanks to @problogger who tweeted this link. I also tweeted it to my followers, specially for the phrase: “Use your creativity to generate content that will inspire and transform the lives of the audience in a positive way.” Simply fantastic!

    You have added yourself a subscriber.

    And for Rita, she will really want to take a look to the 31dbbb from Problogger.

    Have a great day….

  5. This is an incredibly insightful post… you really nailed it. So many signals are out there that most people want to skip or ignore… it really take a special emotion to get people to want to share or subscribe to it !

  6. While I try to create quality articles. I have been rushed at times, in the need to try and create a library of articles. However, not that I have a handful I think I will better serve readers if I slow down and make sure I don’t publish anything if it doesn’t at least score a 4 or higher on the scale.

  7. This one got bookmarked. Thanks. (KidsGranny)

  8. Great information, I didn’t really know there’s so much about writing a content, it really makes me feel I’m missing out a lot just from posting each post.

    Hey, thanks to Copyblogger that intro your article…

  9. I love the way you’ve diagrammed this out – with one exception. I think ‘Shift’ is probably the last result of good content – as most people will send something along or even subscribe to something long before they actually have an attitudinal shift in what they believe. But this is parsing hairs, as the post is spot on. Thanks.

  10. This is a great article! It provides good insight and motivation to write good content. Thank you

  11. This post was thought provoking as it makes someone who reads it analyze and think profoundly on what course of action do they want their readers to respond. Good job!

  12. Thanks Guillermo, Brett, Jonathan, Marie, The Bad Blogger and Chris for your kind comments.

    Chris, on your note – what I have observed is that people do multiple things when the content touches them. For instance they will save (bookmark) and spread (tweet it) or they will stop (think about it) and subscribe (RSS feed)

    I agree with you that the “shift” happens slowly in general but it can also happen in an instant – like you get an “Aha Moment,” a revelation that can change the way you look at the world forever.


  13. Hi Rajesh,

    I’m here because I subscribe to Copyblogger and he linked to this article today. After reading it, I’ve tweeted about it; now I’ve looked quickly through the other posts on your front page and decided to subscribe to you as well.

    This is a really great article that succinctly lays out the spectrum of reaction we face as bloggers. It’s easy enough to say to yourself, “Oh, I guess that was a post that didn’t really resonate,” but it’s not so easy to figure out, “How CAN I make my post resonate with people?” You address the “how” in your list of questions there at the end.

    Thank you for this article! I really need to ask myself those questions more often. I think it’d improve my content, and thus my reader interaction and my satisfaction level, immensely.

  14. For the chart alone I thank you! Visual thinkers LOVE tools like that. 😉
    For the words that enhance that visual .. more thanks…

    Map, checklist and very useable content…

    let’s see it stopped me in my tracks, I tweeted it and now I will probably print it out and use it…

    According to your chart that makes it…. 😉

    It makes a great check up to maintain content quality continuity too. Love it Rajesh.

  15. Yes, climbing this scale is something for us all to aim for.

    It’s all about serving our readers, creating content that makes it worth their time reading it – because it makes their lives better.

    I call this my rule #1 – write for the reader.

  16. purely speaking for myself, i would put subscribe right after save – many times i will be intrigued, then subscribe just to see if the content is of a consistent quality

    i think shift should be the last and is the rarest – many times i will spread and share but not have any shift

    shift sounds like epiphany to me, which is rare

  17. You are so right. As a PR/marketing consultant, I’m seeing the same trend now with the advent of social media as what happened when desktop publishing debuted. People think that because the tools are inexpensive and user-friendly, then anybody can do it and everyone is suddenly an expert. Unfortunately, in many cases the results are mediocre at best. Instead of communicating more, companies need to communicate better. Many don’t realize that they are tarnishing their brands rather than polishing them.

  18. Hi Rajesh,

    Excellent step-by-step analysis of the typical surfer’s behavior! There were a lot of points in there I never considered before, but knowing this information has made me refocus and drill down to get the meaning of my posts – even more-so than before. Thank you!

  19. WOW RAJ! The simple diagram you drew at the beginning is great Making something simple is hard. You’ve done it!

    I agree with Gail Kent (I co-owned one of the first Apple computer dealerships in Toronto in the 80s) that desktop publishing is like social media in that while the “tools” are inexpensive and user-friendly, then anybody can do it and everyone can be an expert. I agree with her that in many cases the results are mediocre at best.

    I plan to spread this (link it) (just like Copyblogger where I found out about you) in my own blog!!!!

  20. Wow. Excellent, excellent post. I’ll certainly use this info as I try to get my blog/website content off the ground.

  21. This is a great article. I have already forwarded it to a some colleagues. It is nice to know what is going on in the surfer’s head and how to better reach them. I do agree with #16 that shift can be hard to place in the continuum. Thanks for the help with knowing what is going on and how to capitalize on it.

  22. Great article, Raj. I think you’ve offered a different way of thinking about innovation and relevance in blogging. It was a very helpful read. Thanks

  23. Mary E. Ulrich says:

    You get a 9–I subscribed. I loved the content but also the graphic. Look forward to more.

  24. 9 from me, too. I’ve subscribed!!!

  25. Hi Rajesh,

    I would add an item or two to your list:

    10. Suggest additions, improvements, and related material. (For example the comments on this blog)
    11. Send Payment! If your content is good, quite often it will lead to leads, sales, and money coming in the door.

    Trying to match up my thoughts to your use of the letter S was a good challenge by the way!


    Thanks to Brian Clark of CopyBlogger for suggesting this post!

  26. Very interesting and inspiring! Thanx!

  27. While most bloggers are caught up with getting page views and other statistical nonsense, you’ve really boiled it down to what we should truly be focusing on, reader response.

    Thank you for breaking it down visually and step by step for a richer understanding of their perspective. As creators of the content, we tend to be too close to it to understand accurately how it’s being consumed. This sheds a lot of light on the matter.

    Saved and soon to be spread.

  28. This was a great find today (through a tweet ~ and I will retweet it.)

    I’d just add that I agree with the addition of a pay option as one of the responses; after all how else are we going to monetize our content? Earning income from our intellectual property is a GOOD thing 🙂

    And the best part of that is, if the content is really good (i.e. of value to readers) there WILL be income from it. Might as well build it into the system, organically rather than as a subtext somewhere or as a byproduct.

    Believe me, it took me a very long time to get this one into my head. Until I did, I might as well have been working for free.

  29. Thanks to both Raj (for the great article) and Bryan (from Copyblogger) for suggesting the article…… I’m like the first commenter, Rita. I’ve got a long way to become an expert blogger, and get feedback and readers, etc. Blogging is fairly new to me, although I have done some published writing before. Keep the insights coming! They are appreciated!!!!

  30. Excellent article. I like the way you broke it down into such a logical flow. Really helped me think of how i will write my next online post.

  31. Thank you for this article, and thank you Brian(of CopyBlogger) for referring readers to it.

    My personal blog has always enjoyed a certain audience, but interestingly enough only 2 people out of 60+ feed subscribers tend to comment on the posts. I find that quite interesting, and wonder what causes it.
    I haven’t yet shaped up my pro blog – I will start linking to it once I do – but your post has definitely become another guideline I will refer to while writing my posts on it.

  32. Thank you, Rajesh, for this conicise view of how people engage with our blogs (I especially love the back-of-the-napkin) illustration. I’ve got a number of clients that I can use this with, starting with ME!

    I appreciate your help and willingness to share.


  33. Cool thoughts – I like the progression from spam to subscribe. One thought – it seems like one step is missing – that of responding (sorry, can’t come up with an “s” word for that). Seems to me like “subscribe” is almost implied (ie., they’re receiving your content, right?), and the biggest transformational experience isn’t so much to subscribe, but to respond – to do something, to add their thoughts to the conversation, to click a link, to buy, etc.

    That seems more transformational to me than just subscribing. But maybe I’m being picky, too – either way, great post.

  34. Quite amazing piece of wisdom this one is. Especially the “questions to think about” at the end will help my writing in the future.

    As a sidenote, most of the time I scan articles, but the picture stopped me right away (perhaps a “tactic” to utilize too) and before leaving this comment I saved & subscribed already!

  35. Regardless of the medium, people very quickly make decisions about what they’re going to invest time to read.

    My first scan of a blog post is to see how long it is.

    (Actually my first scan of a blog post is the title; most never get farther than that.)

    I wonder how the ideas in this post apply to Twitter, where the ‘posts’ are 140 characters or less?

    If you apply the 80/20 Principle, does this mean people only read the first 28 characters before they decide whether to read the rest of the post?

    Cogent post; concise graphic; another ODKLNT opportunity.

  36. Very interesting. I am more likely to spread an article via Twitter or blog than to save/bookmark it. I plan to do both with this article, as I think it’s time to take a hard look at my content and decide how to improve readership. Thanks for the advice!

  37. Hi Raj,
    I came through from Copyblogger. I’ve recently decided I need to learn more about my audience and so am looking at ways I can solicit feedback from them.

    I’ve already emailed a couple of my regular readers with a short list of questions and I also plan to set up an ongoing short survey. I came across a free program (http://www.4qsurvey.com/) I can use on my blog that randomly chooses readers and asks them if they’d be willing to answer 4 short questions. I haven’t trialled it yet but hopefully it’ll give me more of the qualitative info I need.

    Great article. Thanks.

  38. Thanks to all of you for your kind comments, suggestions and participation.

    You all made my day here and it seems like suddenly I have a lot of new friends 🙂



    PS: I am reading every single comment and thanks again for taking the time to post your thoughts here.

  39. Very concise way to break down the responses. Thanks for posting this!

    Your own content is its own proof, as I came here from Copyblogger… and will cross post on my blog, that I’ll be thinking even more carefully on how I write.

    Thank you for the great post!

  40. Another reason why I’m already a subscriber. Consistently insightful, well-written posts here. It also doesn’t hurt if you can sum up all your points with alliteration, too!

    Also kudos to Nancy B for mentioning the monetary reward part. One way to do that would be to compile selected posts into something like “Copyblogger: The Book”.

    Thanks for the inspiration and motivation.

  41. This is a great way to think about these issues. While some of us love to write just for the sake of writing, as soon as we publish our missives, be they Tweets or blog entries, we have to put the user first.

    When I write a new blog entry (about Web development, design, SEO, marketing, social media and such) it’s usually because some topic has inspired me. Last week I wrote about Flash and SEO because I’ve been noticing that many (but not all) Flash Web sites have problems in this area. So I wanted to share the issues with members of my audience who may be thinking about using Flash on the Web. Other times I might write a tutorial in response to questions I’ve rec’d from friends or colleagues on how to do X or Y.

    When writing I think about why the topic is of interest to me, and then consider if it will be of interest to others. Sometimes I’m poised to share a Tweet about something I’ve noticed, then I wonder if anyone else will really care. If the answer is no, then the Tweet doesn’t get sent. The same is true of the blog. Typically I ponder a topic in the following manner:

    Will topic X be of interest to others?
    Are those people in my primary audience?
    Has the topic been well covered by others?
    If so is there a new perspective that I can add?
    Has something changed that makes the topic newly relevant?

    If after that it seems that I can add information of value, without rehashing the same old stuff that others have covered, then I’ll proceed. But if not I’ll put the idea aside until something changes that makes it more relevant.

    While my response here has been more pertinent to blogging, it also applies to our marketing copy. A few months back I wrote MKTG 101: Web Content Should Serve Visitor Needs as a reminder that even when we’re selling we need to put the visitor first. In that case it requires us to give them the information they need to make an informed purchasing decision. But no matter what our writing goal may be, we can only achieve our goals if we serve the needs and interests of our readers.

  42. This is an extremely elegant and well reasoned explanation of the value of content. Using the concept of content value being equated a readers return on the investment of their time is simply a brilliant way of making the point.

    No one wants to waste time reading a pointless dribble. The entire concept of marketing to offer valuable content which closely matches a readers interest. Niche marketing is entirely dependent on this concept.

    As you so clearly point out, “The Content Should Server the Visitor Needs”.

    The little diagram at the top of the article captures the idea perfectly. Congratulations and well done

  43. Cool. I am not the subscribing type but this is to good stuff so the phaser is set on a spread pattern.

    Makes me wonder if all that complicated statistical analysis stuff I studied in school would work on this. A kind of hyper cube the dimensions of which might be human responses. (I can see my wife’s puzzled/weary look from over here…)

  44. A picture really is worth a thousand words, Rajesh… this was a great post! I can’t sing its accolades any better than Tatiana, so; DITTO!

    I too subscribe to copyblogger and that’s how I found you!

    You’ve officially become my newest “blog friend!” –r

  45. Very interesting article. I disagree about the ranking of #7 and #8, that is how it should work, I think, and in the best cases it does. For example, I found your post because Brian Clark at Copyblogger liked it enough to link to you here. But I think with social media as it exists right now, there are people who share and save just as a matter of course–as a way of being active on Twitter, or forwarding something to Digg because it “sounds like” something that should be on Digg.

    Nevertheless, great points and really effective use of visual aid.

  46. Raj,

    Terrific list! Well thought out. And the graphic is terrific! My (small, tiny) only nit to pick is with “Spam” — it fits your alliteration, but it’s the one *action* that your audience *won’t* take. It is how they perceive certain communication. The proper response here would be “Slam” or “Swat” or something similar.



  47. Yup! its the “engaging factor” that counts rather than curiosity building. Interestingly, most of the times most of us forget what blogs were supposed to be for? Vent out of passion in terms of words. If one drifts away from that I dn’t think any hockey pockey gonna be of much help.

    Amy Dyslex

  48. The great thing about this post is that it’s “recursively correct”, ie. I would rate it about a 5 – 6 on the response scale. 😉

    I saw the picture through my email because I subscribe to the CopyBlogger list and that was all I had to see.

    I strongly believe that most things in life can be understood given that they’re expressed in their simplest form. Quote Einstein, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

    This picture encapsulates so much to do with my Affiliate Marketing campaigns that I’m compelled to print it out and stick it up on my wall as guidance to constantly improve the quality of the content I offer visitors to my blog. I just need a new printer first. =p

    Thank you,


  49. Thanks to ProBlogger you now have a new subscriber. Thanks for the great post.

  50. This is awesome Rajesh! You gave a complete picture of the responses to content. Your 4 points to consider is also well-said.

    One thing I might disagree is the sequence for levels 7,8 & 9. I think 9, 7 & 8 would be better, since I’m more likely to ‘subscribe’ than ‘spread’ the message. That’s because I’m thinking my friends may not like what I recommend, so to spread a message usually requires a higher motivation than to subscribe myself. But that’s just my opinion.

    Anyway I got here through copyblogger who was at level 8 Spreading the message. I sure hope you are getting lots of level 9 Subscribers!

  51. Brilliant article Raj I found it full of insights. Thank you.

  52. I just had a bright spark moment. Thank you. It’s not enough to just put up blog posts left, right and center. A little bit of planning goes a long way. Reading through the responses that my website visitor’s go through just made me realize how important it is to capture your reader’s attention… and how important it is to convert his/her attention into action.

  53. Awesome stuff, Raj! I especially enjoyed the graphic in the beginning of the post.

    Going back to your first point, the necessity to create quality content worth reading, a common question I often get is “How do I even begin to know what to write?” or “How do I create content that is high quality”.

    I often tell these people — READ! LEARN! STUDY! People go to college for years to learn about a specific course of study. They read articles, textbooks, and attend lectures.

    This is no different.

    You must become a student of your craft.

    For the people who ask me about creating qualilty content around the subject of copywriting, I often will send them to my favorite copywriting blogs, the ones I read on a regular basis.

    Now I can add your blog to the list. Great stuff.

  54. Very good advices!
    I have been thinking in terms like these myself (that every posting must be meaningful, should create an interest in the blog and be a reason for revisiting and read next post, etc.), but there is a small issue which is not mentioned here.

    Unless you are a pro blogger, it is hard to live up to another expectation, while maintaining high quality. I am talking about frequency.

    Blogs need to have at least a few postings a week to be able to uphold a strong readership (my opinion and experience). Keeping up frequency AND quality is hard, if blogging isn’t part of your core business.

    I’d love to hear your opinions on this. Maybe I am just too lazy, too stupid or too slow, but if you have any advice, please tell.

  55. Great takeaways in this article but quite lengthy (I scanned through a bunch of it), but got the gist of it. CopyBlogger got me interested in this article and the diagram reeled me in.

  56. this is such a great article.
    will definitely put it to good use.
    Will share this 🙂

  57. Sami brought up a great point… “ask.”

    I’m in my last week of my MBA program and getting ready for a week vacation… so a few weeks ago I posted an “Update” post about what was going on with me. That I may not be posting as regularly, like maybe once a week for a while. And asked for suggestions on making my blog or posts better.

    The response was sort of surprising. People that normally didn’t comment at all said something. I learned more about what the few subscribers I do have want in that short post then months of analyzing their comments.

  58. That’s a great summary of an important point that often gets lost in the shuffle of cool tools like Twitter.

    We have to remember that when push comes to shove, people remember the quality, not the quantity. They remember their first kiss, that hug you got from mom when you’d failed to make the team, and the small, but significant piece of advice that changed their lives.


  59. This came right on time. I began my first blog entry on wordpress. I didn’t post it to the main page. I decided to save it as a draft. I will revist it to include the 9 points you mentioned in this article. Thanks!!! Very useful and helpful.

  60. Great post; thank you! I found you through copyblogger too. I would just share that I find with my own sites, I get far more comments when I write something that is personal to my life – ie fly-on-the-wall type posts.

    People love to know about people; we naturally compare ourselves to one another and we like to see what other people get up to.

    I know this isn’t relevant for all types of blogs, but in the case of your first poster (Rita); I took a look at your site, Rita and if there was more of ‘you’ in your posts, so instead of just a recipe; you might tell a story about that recipe and how it fell into your hands; I think you might attract more comments 🙂

    best wishes to all,
    Mrs Green

  61. Very useful information.Thanks for sharing it.I’ll keep them in mind when writing.

  62. great stuff. A bit of this I had to learn the hard way . Don’t make the same mistakes I made.

  63. Great post Rajesh! makes hell of a lot of sense! lets hope we all can become productive!

  64. How can you make this article “extremely relevant” to the current times? This is a cracking bit of advice that I shall take on board. Thanks

  65. How about “flipping” the graphic. As it stands now you place visual emphasis (eye tracking/F pattern) on:

    High (Ignorance) – Spam – Negative (ROI) – Low (Value)

    Wouldn’t it make more sense if the emphasis was placed on what most people are really after?

    High (Value) – Subscribe – Engage – Low (Ignorance)

  66. I was ‘scanning’ my feeds, and saw your name, that made me click, because I believed that it would be a positive ROI. And I’m glad I did.

    ps: love the illustration you used here
    pps: I’ll think of it the next time I write something.

  67. Great post and visual. I am finalizing a book called Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation, and your post helps cement some of the concepts in that book – how content, even user assistance or support knowledgebase content, should offer ways for readers to respond in this way. Thanks for helping me think about content in a new way.