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How Readers Read Websites

By None:

A fellow we've often called the smartest guy on the internet - the user interface expert Jakob Nielsen - has released some details from his latest study on how website visitors read websites.

Fpattern_2More accurately, they don't exactly read:

F for fast. That's how users read your precious content.

In a few seconds, their eyes move at amazing speeds across your website’s words in a pattern that's very different from what you learned in school.

In our new eyetracking study, we recorded how 232 users looked at thousands of Web pages.

How do they scan?

Users first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area. This initial element forms the F's top bar.

Next, users move down the page a bit and then read across in a second horizontal movement that typically covers a shorter area than the previous movement. This additional element forms the F's lower bar.

Finally, users scan the content's left side in a vertical movement. Sometimes this is a fairly slow and systematic scan that appears as a solid stripe on an eyetracking heatmap. Other times users move faster, creating a spottier heatmap. This last element forms the F's stem.

So, what does this mean for you?

Users won't read your text thoroughly in a word-by-word manner. Exhaustive reading is rare, especially when prospective customers are conducting their initial research to compile a shortlist of vendors. Yes, some people will read more, but most won't.

The first two paragraphs must state the most important information. There's some hope that users will actually read this material, though they'll probably read more of the first paragraph than the second.

Start subheads, paragraphs, and bullet points with information-carrying words that users will notice when scanning down the left side of your content in the final stem of their F-behavior. They'll read the third word on a line much less often than the first two words.

Posted on April 20, 2006 in
research.