You’ve probably heard about how users read on the web—they skim, they scan, they notice headlines, etc. In truth, what users do on the web cannot really even be considered reading, since only 16 percent of web users actually read content word-for-word. The vast majority of web readers pick out individual words and sentences, rarely reading even an entire paragraph.
What is “Scannable Text?”
This is why “scannable text” has become one of the latest buzzwords surrounding search engine optimization and rules about the best way to write compelling, readable copy. This type of text is basically comprised of highlighted keywords, attention-grabbing headlines, sub-headlines which are rich in meaning, bulleted or numbered lists, one idea per paragraph, and at least half the word count of conventional writing.
How Much Do Readers Read?
The average web page reader reads a maximum of 28% of the actual words on your page, probably even less. The possible flaw in this equation comes from the fact that in order to come up with this particular statistic, the users in the studies tended to all possess above-average intelligence, and some might say that the typical reader of above-average intelligence might tend to scan most of what they read, whether it’s online or a book in their hands. Interestingly, the studies which found how much people scan on the web also determined that the “back” button is the third most-used feature on the web, and that most users consider it a lifeline which rescues them from content that turns out to be neither helpful nor interesting to them.
Nearly 20% of all page views last less than 4 seconds, meaning the user bounced out almost immediately after a quick scan of the page. Users tended to spend more time on pages with more information, meaning the website owner must not only grab the reader’s attention almost immediately, but must also provide the highest quality, most interesting information around in order to hold the reader’s attention.
Keep Your Intro Short and Sweet
Because much of the introductory text on web pages tends to be extremely long, users simply skip it. If you want your readers to actually read your intro, keep it short, informative, and make sure it increases the overall usability of your site by telling your reader about the purpose of the rest of your content. Many users will simply skip the introductory paragraph, jumping immediately to any actionable content on the page. This type of content could consist of the specific features of your products, bulleted lists, a short explanation of your business services, or hypertext links. Forget rolling out the welcome mat, and simply get to the heart of the matter, and you will stand a better chance of hanging on to your reader.
Use the Same Technique with Your Content
Your content must take note of the same issues as your intro. Once you’ve written your content, go back and slash mercilessly, leaving only the very most pertinent, interesting, exciting information behind. As noted, web articles should be approximately half as long as a comparable hard copy if you want your readers to read to the end, so learn to edit. Pepper your article with lots of subheads, which break up blocks of copy and allow those who are scanning to get the idea simply by looking at the subheads. Bullets and numbered lists immediately draw your reader’s attention, especially those who like reading lists. Use your white space judiciously rather than trying to fill every single space on your page with text. White space gives the eyes a break, making the overall article much more scannable. Complex sentences are not web-friendly, neither are long paragraphs. Finally, if you want to make your most important words stand out, use different colored text, bold or italics–but use them judiciously. Use photographs to show your reader exactly what you are talking about, and make sure you use an easy-on-the-eyes font. It’s important to understand how your web readers operate in order to reach them and keep them reading.