How Users Read on the Web

Internet guru Jakob Nielsen got it right on October 1, 1997:

How Users Read on the Web?

They don’t.

And it’s true way more today than it was 11 years ago, for websites and blogs.

“People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences. In research on how people read websites we found that 79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word. (Update: a newer study found that users read email newsletters even more abruptly than they read websites.)”

Nielsen adds some specific tips:

“As a result, Web pages have to employ scannable text, using

  • highlighted keywords (hypertext links serve as one form of highlighting; typeface variations and color are others)
  • meaningful sub-headings (not “clever” ones)
  • bulleted lists
  • one idea per paragraph (users will skip over any additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the paragraph)
  • the inverted pyramid style, starting with the conclusion
  • half the word count (or less) than conventional writing

We found that credibility is important for Web users, since it is unclear who is behind information on the Web and whether a page can be trusted. Credibility can be increased by high-quality graphics, good writing, and use of outbound hypertext links. Links to other sites show that the authors have done their homework and are not afraid to let readers visit other sites.”

More from this delightful and useful report here.

About the author

Kim Klaver

1 Comment

  • Kim:
    What a great post, with great information.

    I thought it was just me and my ADD for the reason many sites and sales letters could not hold my attention. I have found for myself, that most people lose me in their “website” design, because of an overload of useless info “tecno-babble” or they use the the lo-o-ong sales letter that to be honest is so boring… hypey… and it just looks like everything else out there.

    I feel like screaming “Just get to the point already— what’s your bottom line??”

    I am a scanner someone has to get my attention fast. You always do… just like this post you have today, it was short, to the point, and caught my interest enough to not only read, but I went and checked out the links and then ended up posting a comment. (Now my tea is cold! :o)

    What Great info… I bookmarked the sites on the links.

    Thanks Kim.

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