People don’t read anymore, they skim. Especially when on a web page.
Studies by the Nielson Norman Group have shown that readers’ eyes track differently when reading online. They skim words faster, and not in a linear, sequential manner, like when reading print. Their eyes are scanning at lightening speed in an F-shaped pattern, often going quickly across the top of the page in a horizontal line, then dropping down the page for shorter horizontal scan across the middle, followed by a quick vertical scan up the left side–all in a matter of seconds.
Readers on the net are looking for answers to questions, and they only read about 28% of what you have on a page, according to the previously mentioned study. If they don’t see what they’re looking for within a few seconds, they leave.
In order to keep readers engaged with your blog posts, case studies, e-mail newsletters, etc. you need to organize your content for easy readability.
10 Content Formatting Tips
- Avoid thick blocks of text —nothing longer than 3 or 4 sentences. If the content looks visually dense and hard to skim quickly, a lot of visitors won’t try.
- Break up sections of text with headers in bold that grab attention and specify what your points are.
- The first two paragraphs should give the most important information. If readers don’t see it there, chances are they won’t scroll down to find it. Information below the fold is rarely attended to.
- Use bullet points that contain information packed phrases, with the pertinent information falling within the first two or three words of each bullet. Instead of saying, “Break up your text by utilizing bullet points,” say “Use bullet points.”
- Vary sentence length. Have some that are short and punchy and others that are longer. On the web, it is ok to judiciously use phrases for readability and to make a point. (Your 7th grade English teacher might not want that, but web readers do!) Instead of saying, “If you want to find the best customer service from an insurance company, look no further,” say “Great service in the insurance industry? Right here.”
- Fonts—Bigger is Better. Forget about Times New Roman, size 12. Use cleaner fonts (Ariel, Verdana, Trebuchet MS, and Helvitica) and a larger size (14 is the new 12).
- Information Architecture counts. Make your web content easy to navigate, both on the page itself and by showing readers what they might find on other pages. Include links that carry them to other sections further down the page for more details, and links that help them navigate to other pages. If someone lands on your page consider them a visitor to your city. Do you leave them stranded on the street and confused, or do you give them the means to get where they need to go?
- Call To Actions – What do you want your readers to do once they’re finished reading? Do you want them to promote your post on social media? Contact for more information? Buy now? Make it easy for readers to complete the desired action by including clear and distinct links throughout your content.
- Speak to the readers, not at them. Avoid technical language that is shop talk in your industry. Write for a reader who doesn’t know the jargon. If your content is easier to comprehend, readers will find it easier to buy from you.
- Include facts and stats. Eyes are drawn to numbers written as numerals, not words. Write “53,” not “fifty-three.” It’s ok to start a sentence, subhead or bullet point with a numeral, even if they taught you in the MLA handbook not to do so.
Good digital content is more than just grammatically correct journalism, it’s writing for today’s internet readers so that you help them find the information they need. It’s writing for the skimmers, so that they’ll want to read more.