Online viewers scan for information rather than reading for comprehension. If you’re delivering your content to an online device, more than likely your reader is easily distracted. Your writing must reflect this fact by providing content in a manner that will grab their attention, let them know what is available and quickly and easily provide the answers they are looking for. The catch? You only have a few brief seconds.
Even if people can effectively read at a higher reading level, they find it easier to read simple text. This means you should write for a 5th-grade reading level in your summaries, an 8th-grade in the majority of your content, and a maximum of 11th-grade in accompanying literature.
THE “F” PATTERN
Research has shown that online content viewers read in a “F” pattern with their primary focus on the upper left hand corner. Website visitors tend to read in a scanning manner, looking for the highlights of your message, and it needs to be where they are looking.
Some important facts*:
- Online users spend 80% of their time looking above the page fold (the portion of the website that is viewable when the website is first opened). Although they will scroll lower, they only allot 20% of their time doing so, and only if their attention is captured first.
- Users spend 60% of their time looking at the left half of the webpage, which only leaves 30% of their time available for the right hand side.
- At most, online readers have undistracted time to read little more than 20% of the words on a page during their visit.
- Scanning text is an extremely common behavior for the higher-literacy users.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO ME AND MY WEBSITE?
There are some easy and immediate things you can do to help make your content more scannable.
- Make text easy to scan, meaning short messages utilizing header text to call out the high points.
- Include keywords in your headers to make it clear what the following text is about.
- Use bulleted lists to break up content. Lists make it easy to scan ideas by removing unnecessary text.
*www.useit.com for usability stats.