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Do People Actually Read Your Website Content?

I recently had a client tell me that his web page looked too messy because there were too many font sizes. I tried to explain to him that people skim on the web, they don’t read, and varying the font sizes helps to highlight critical content. He didn’t really buy it, but grudgingly agreed to leave it as designed.

Research has shown over and over that people don’t read on computers – they skim. Jakob Nielsen, the godfather of usability, recently did a study on About Us pages where he said “Task success for finding out what the company or organization does actually dropped, from 90% to 81%. In place of a frank summary of the business, marketese and blah-blah text ruled the day on many sites." In other words, shorter, more concise verbage proved to provide better usability than the marketing jargon that was too verbose.

Why is this? Some of the research gathered has shown:

  • It takes 25% longer for a person to read on the computer as it takes to read something on paper, so it feels harder.
  • People would prefer to interact with the page rather than stare at it, so they are anxious to click away.
  • People feel like if they don’t move on to the next link, they’ll be missing some other great page to look at, so they’re quick to move on.
  • In an eye tracking study, only 1 in 6 people actually read copy line by line.
  • People are too busy

Research has also shown what is effective in helping people read your content more efficiently:
  • Chunking type into bulleted lists, bolded sentences and differentiated headlines Concise, to-the-point writing
  • Links leading to more information rather than having information all on one page.
  • Put important details first as you generally lose a reader as they near the bottom.

Websites are not print brochures, so they should not follow the same design guidelines. A page that is chunked up into different sizes and colors of type has been done for your benefit. It is following usability standards to help deliver the information in the most common pattern for online reading.

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