Do you remember old school HTML websites? Probably The World’s Worst Website may help to look back in the past and remind you how ugly first HTML websites were and how much effort we had to spend to quickly find different categories and try not to freak out with the flashy font colors. I remember that what I have thought when I first used internet almost 18 years ago was: “This is cool but honestly I will never read an entirely text page!”.
Nowadays, thanks to developers from all around the globe, our daily experience with internet got better and has increased significantly. Understanding how people look for information and read on the web can directly affect webpages and websites design.
Time on page is critical!
Jakob Nielsen’s web usability research1 showed that 79% of web users always scan any new page they come across and only 16% of them read word-by-word. The truth is that people do not have time to read a full article. We live in a busy and fast-paced world where nobody wants to miss the first seconds of the new Games of Thrones season, even if they already know that the first part of the episode is going to be a recap of what happened before. They are going to furiously skim and scan online streaming websites looking for something like a keyword, a header or a link (“Watch Games of Thrones online now!“) that catches their attention or matches the reason they’re visiting a specific website in the first place. Full text pages are disappearing, the use of bulleted lists is becoming more popular, featured image is a must and BOLD is frequently used to highlight keynotes.
Various studies on eye tracking visualizations2 showed that we are more keen to read webpages in F-shaped pattern: two horizontal stripes followed by a vertical stripe. F stands for fast: users are rapidly skimming the website content going from the top left hand corner of the page to the right one and then following the content flow on the left side of the page. Not all users are scrolling to the end of the page though: this factor is directly linked to the ability of the webmaster and copywriter to smoothly balance a user-friendly layout, engaging content and eye-catching images.
What we need to do to create a reader-friendly page?
- Keep it simple! Do not overload your website with multiple categories, different columns and text fonts that might confuse the readers and force them to leave the page.
- Let the users see what you want. As we previously discussed, the majority of people won’t read your text thoroughly in a word-by-word manner. Highlight what you want them to see first and guide their gaze through a conversion process.
- The first two paragraphs must contain the most important information. Every copywriter knows that starting a post or an ad body takes always a lot of time and only after various tries he/she might be able to condense in few sentences an attracting and exhaustive description of what the users are going to read next, pushing them towards the lower lines of the page.
- Start paragraphs and bullet points with information-carrying words. Do not be afraid to break the reading rhythm: let the readers take a breath and allow them to rapidly jump from one paragraph to the other simply by checking the first word in the sentences. “They’ll read the third word on a line much less often than the first two words”3.