| Expert View

Is your website copy optimized for online?

Have you ever opened a webpage only to see a wall of unreadable information? You’ve mostly likely encountered copy that was written for print rather than web. Humans behave differently when accessing information online. This includes different reading patterns, attention spans and expectations. By following 3 simple online writing techniques, you can ensure you quickly engage readers and communicate effectively.

Use the appropriate language

Language is one of the most important things to consider when writing for the web. A study by Nielsen Norman Group found that usability increases by 124% when the language is concise, scannable and objective.

Concise language gets straight to the point. An easy way to create concise language is to reduce your word count by half, and then reduce it by half again. You will then be left with the facts and the absolutely essential.

Objective language is the opposite of a TV commercial. Readers do not want to sort through marketing jazz and exaggerated statements, this creates a heavier cognitive load. They simply want to read the information quickly and easily.

Create scannable copy

The study also showed that usability increased with text that was easy to scan. Only 16 percent of users read a webpage like a novel. Most scan the entire page before deciding to read sections that interest them. Make it easier for the reader to scan by including;

  • Descriptive and meaningful subheadings
  • Highlighted keywords
  • Bullet or numbered lists
  • Hyperlinks to references or more detailed information
  • Quotes
  • Images or videos that don’t look like advertising. Users will block out anything that seems unrelated

Design for natural reading

Readers naturally move read from left to right, top to bottom. The same is true for online reading however, coupled with scanning the user reads in an ‘F’ pattern. The user will start at the top of a webpage and progresses across to the right hand side. This creates the first arm of the ‘F’. The eye then moves down and to the right again, however not as far as the first time. This creates the second arm of the ‘F’. Finally the eye will scan down until it reaches a break, creating the stem on the ‘F’.

A heat-map showing the movement of the eye as a webpage is read.

F-Reading Pattern Eyetracking (courtesy of nngroup.com)

This reading pattern creates disadvantages and opportunities. Firstly, users read the first two paragraphs more thoroughly. This means that the information needs to be weighted like a newspaper article. That is, the most important information at the beginning.

Secondly, the pattern means that users stop momentarily at the bottom of the ‘F’. This makes a perfect position for a strong call to action if appropriate.

With these techniques in mind, take a few minutes to rethink your website copy. Is it a wall of text, or it is optimized for online reading?

Writers block

Related work & views: