How users read web content - Scanning a NewspaperPeople very rarely read everything they see

The normal behaviour is to visually scan pages looking for key words within the titles, headings, sub-headings, list items, links and so forth.  Your business website relies on proper and meaningful titles and headings.  Web designers and copywriters need to work closely to format and create content so the best possible results can be achieved for their client.  Writing copy for the web is a skill and an art and as Google states: Content is King.

So how do people read the web? by JAKOB NIELSEN on October 1, 1997

They don’t. People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.

Scanning content

There are tips and tricks to catch people’s attention and most importantly keep their attention – at least while they are scanning.  As Jakob Nielsen suggests:

  • highlighted keywords that are bolded and hyperlinked
  • meaningful sub-headings (not “clever” ones)
  • bullet lists
  • one idea per paragraph
  • half the word count (or less) than conventional writing

Website Designer and a copywriter

A good copywriter will know various aspects of writing for the web to help catch and maintain the reader’s undivided attention.  The Flesch reading ease score for every article is a way to measure the readability of the content.  Having a high Flesch reading score will increase the chances of your reader effectively reading each sentence and paragraph.  Website designers are responsible for the visual display or format of the content.  Making sure the right words are bolded, lists are generated, proper titles and sub-headings are used is very important.  Imagine what the content would look like without any formatting.

Losing the reader’s attention

Unless your content resonates deeply with your reader then chances are most people who you’ve attracted with your meaningful title or heading will not likely read the whole article in it’s entirety.  Knowing how to implement the “Inverted Pyramid” approach is important. Starting with the summary or main topic of your story at the top of the page and then working down into the finer details of your article.  If you are going to catch the attention of your readers then you need to do it in the first paragraph.   

The act of subconsciousness scanning

When you pick up a newspaper or magazine are you reading it  word for word, front to back? Unless you are the editor, you will unknowingly scan very quickly only looking at images and headlines of each story.  IF you do find something something interesting then and only then will you start to read more.  Making sense?

Put it to the test

Next time you see someone pick up a newspaper – observe the reader and see how much scanning they do versus actual reading.  If you know the person quite well, ask them a few questions after they have flipped through a few pages.  What did you find interesting on this page?  What caught your attention with XYZ article?  Knowing the behaviour of people and how they read the web will make it easier for you to write and format content.