Or ‘How to write for the web #1: Assume users hate reading’
It’s well known that users read text on screens differently to the way they read print.
We all skim text (which is different to scanning) and very rarely read web page copy word for word.
This is one of the basics for web copywriters / editors, but I just had to share this classic example of how web readers skim page text.
Indulge me by doing this little exercise:
- Visit this page of the Guardian’s Eat Right website
- Read the text on the page as you normally would (or at least try to) if coming to the page anew.
- Come back to this page and read the rest of the article.
Okay. once you’ve visited the page…
How did you get on? What happened when you were faced with the wall of text? Did you skim or scroll down the page until you found something that required less effort to read?
Did you only start reading properly until you got to the first numbered / bolded bullet point?
Each week I get the Eat Well email newsletter (yes, I’m fat as well as being interested in content), I log on and without fail find myself skimming the headline, reading the first few words of the opening paragraph, getting bored and skimming through the article until I get to something I feel I can read in seconds – the numbered bullets. I now purposely read the newsletter because I know I’m going to be able to get a load of information in bite sized chunks.That I do this when the lengthy bullet points are only marginally shorter than the preceding ‘feature’ text only emphasises the weird habits of web readers.
Could it be improved?
No offence to the writers of Guardian Eat Right. It’s a great website, and it’s a commercial sales email newsletter that’s doing it’s job: I’m clicking the link and reading the site’s latest bit of advertorial content, week in, week out, despite not being on a diet, worried about the state of my intestines or paranoid about food (after reading the Daily Mail / Telegraph).
But with my content editor’s head on, I’d suggest reducing the intro text to a paragraph or less, moving the bullets up the page and, once drawn in / suitably engaged in the topic, then present the user with any dense / more detailed text, assuming it’s required.
This technique actually touches on ‘front loading’, but thats a topic for another post.