When people actually read

“Help users save time by focusing their scanning eyes on information that they actually want to read.” – Jakob Nielsen

A post from Jakob Nielsen’s blog, Website Reading: It (Sometimes) Does Happen, describes what makes web users stop scanning and start reading.

He starts with what we know:

  • Users go to website for Information.
  • Users scarcely read anything during an average website visit.

But sometimes people do stop their scanning to read a paragraph in full. What makes them do that? Let’s start by saying why they read what they read. There are really only two options:

  • They were looking for that information.
  • Something piqued their interest.

Remember that people go to websites to get information, so it makes sense that if they’re looking for something specific, they will scan around the page until they find that information. But we also notice things that are interesting, regardless of whether we were looking for it.  Sometimes we’re trying to get people to go somewhere or read something they hadn’t planned on. For all these scenarios, the method is essentially the same.

What does this mean for our websites?

Don’t make it hard for people to find what they need

Use headings and bulleted lists to make a page easier to scan. Get rid of unnecessary text.

Build your pages for your visitors.

Practical Tips

Jakob’s suggestions can be summarized as:

  • Use good information architecture – clear navigation/menuing
  • Good page layout – use headings to easily guide the eye to the relevant part of the page
  • Most important information should be at the top of the page – 81% look at the first paragraph and it goes down from there. Only 32% look at the fourth paragraph.