No matter how much you may wish otherwise, there are a mere 24 hours in each day and at least a few of those must be spent sleeping if you want to be even slightly coherent. Yet, there is so much that must be packed into a single day that it is hard to fit everything in.
What that means for website owners is that you are not only competing against other websites for people's time, but you are competing with the other things the average person has in their life. You're competing with work, television, friends, family, hobbies, books, and a hundred other things.
Grab the Reader Fast!
Microsoft Research did some studies and found that the first 10 seconds that a person visits your web page are the most critical. These are the moments when the visitor makes a decision to either stay on your page for a minute or two and scan your material or to leave and go elsewhere.
Since you have a couple blinks of in the eye to grab the reader and keep her on your site, there are a few things you'll want to do to make sure you grab her:
Write an engaging headline
The headline is important. If it poses an interesting question or drives the reader to want to act, then you've “hooked” the reader and she'll want to keep reading.
Balance text and white space
The overall look of the page is important. Remember that the reader is quickly skimming the page with his eyes to see if it looks interesting. If the reader sees big blocks of text without any white space to break them up, he may assume the article is too scholarly or will take too long to read.
Add interesting images
A large, clear, and engaging image can draw the reader by itself. Take time to choose an image that matches the topic. For example, if you're writing an article about how to build your own bookcase, include an image of a beautiful finished product.
Don't Spend All Your Time Worrying About The Top of Your Page
In an article on Time Magazine's website, the CEO of Chartbeat, Tony Haile, says that website owners have measured success the wrong way for many years now. His premise is that a click measures very little. Someone can click on a link and immediately bounce away from your site and that click is next to worthless to you.
The data team at Chartbeat took a sampling of 2 billion pageviews of 580,000 different articles across 2,000 different sites. From that data, Tony and his team were able to figure out which pages got a lot of attention (people were actually reading them) and which ones didn't.
The study also found that most people are so used to seeing advertising and leaderboards at the top of a page that they scroll past the top third and right to the content “below the fold”. In fact, on a regular page, people spent more than 66% of their time below the fold.
Other studies estimate that 80% readers still read above the fold. These studies conflict with one another, making it confusing as to whether readers focus on the top of the page or the bottom of the page.
What does this mean for website owners? More than likely, some site visitors read above the fold and others below the fold, so you'll need a mix of strategies to meet the needs of different reader types. Yes, your headline is important, but don't spend so much time on it that you ignore that bottom part of your page. Your entire article should be easy to read.
Why Writing Concisely Is Crucial
Nielson/Norman Group has been studying how people read on the web since 1994. They've used eye-tracking studies as one of the measurements. They discovered some interesting things:
- Readers don't read left to right online
- Readers skim over text, barely reading it
- Readers prefer material that presents the main idea up front and center, so they can get the “gist” of the article without actually reading it word for word
- Readers make the decision in a split second about whether or not a site is worth sticking around
The increased use of mobile devices is making these points even truer. As more and more people access the Internet on their smartphones and tablets, skimmable material will become even more important.
How to Write Easily Scannable Text
From the headline to the last sentence on the page, your text should be easy to scan on a computer or a mobile device. The reader may have a minute to skim over the main ideas, so you want them to be easy to find. Nielsen estimates that the average webpage visitors read barely over 20% of the words on the page.
Some things you can do to make sure your article is easy to glance over include:
- Use bold text for headings and subheadings to make them stand out.
- Use bullet points and numbered lists to help readers scan more easily.
- Use short sentences that are concise and to the point.
- Keep paragraphs short. Three or four sentences are a good rule of thumb.
- Add captions to images where it makes sense.
- Images should enhance the text.
- Charts and infographics are terrific, easily scannable additions.
Reading on-screen is harder on the eyes and a bit slower than reading printed material. There are many reasons why people skim web material rather than reading word-for-word.
One thing is certain, though, and that is that people will continue to skim articles and will stick around if they are engaged through concise writing that meets their individual needs. You can ensure that you meet those needs by keeping your writing short, sweet, and to the point.