Content Creation for Web Use: Part One
Reading vs. Scanning
Fact // Readers on the internet do not read nearly as much as they “scan.”
When designing and writing website content, it is important to take the above fact into account.
Users tend to respond at the speed of the medium. The immediacy of the platform along with increasingly effective design means that users are much more likely to peruse blocks of content quickly while looking for something they want.
Unlike traditional slow media, users skim web pages seeking out highlighted keywords, relevant headlines, brief paragraphs and sequential lists. In most cases, individuals are looking for predetermined, specific information. As such, they are likely to overlook content that is not immediately relevant to their specific search.
Jakob Nielsen is a renowned author, researcher and consultant on user interface design. He presented an eye-tracking study in 2008, indicating that less than 20% of the text on an average web page is read through to completion.
In truth, this number refers only to the pages where viewers stop to consume information. The average user will bypass a majority of pages that do not appear to contain relevant information or lack points of attentional engagement.
The only time it is probable that you will engage viewers in word-for-word reading is when you present content that is immediately relevant to what they seek. Users should not expected absorb content not easily consumed. Writers should simplify long text blocks of traditional prose or unnecessarily complex instructions. Similarly, verbose, hyperbolic or promotional writing simply for its sake should be avoided.
By augmenting text with relevant headlines, subheads, and links, you can entice and engage readers to delve deeper into your site for the information they seek.
Finally, content on a page should be organized with a clear hierarchy of importance, including the use of titles and headlines. This organizational structure should take into account different type sizes and weights for different elements of content. This way, the content is presented in a manner much easier to scan and consider than a wall of similarly sized, similarly weighted text.
As content creators, embrace brevity whenever possible while also building engagement into your pages. Too much content is precisely what it sounds like…too much content. Concise and easy to consume website copy increases information retention and more importantly, user satisfaction. Clear content hierarchies along with logical and consistent type variation will make pages easier to consume quickly.