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Why You Should Help Readers Scan Your Content

ARE YOU COMMITTED TO READING THIS ARTICLE?

79% of web users scan rather than read. That means you are probably glancing this over, sifting through the text in search of interesting data. But if you’re an online content creator, how do you structure your content so that people can just scan it and still get all the important information? According to renowned researcher and engineer Jakob Nielsen, there are some basic ways to help make online content more user-friendly.

CATCHING THE EYE

Nielsen -- who has been dubbed the “guru of web page usability” by The New York Times -- has broken down the science of how you absorb information on the Internet. His exhaustive studies have utilized eye-tracking technology to analyze 1.5 million instances where users looked at Web sites to understand how the human eye interacts with design.

"The real highlight [of the study] is that peoples' eyes flitter fast across pages. Very little time is allocated to each page element, so you have to be brief and concise in communicating online," says Neilson.

NEILSON’S ADVICE FOR MAXIMIZING READERSHIP

  • Write eye-catching, concise headlines.
  • Display crisp images in order to catch – and keep – your reader’s attention.
  • Understand the F principle.
“People look down the pages in an 'F' pattern, with a few stripes at top -- the first one longer than the second -- and then down the long vertical stripe to see if there is anything else.”

Intuit Senior Editor Rochelle Bailis elaborates in the above video. She urges online content creators to present their conclusion / thesis immediately at the top of their article in order to grab your reader. But now that you’ve caught their eye, how do you keep it?

USE SUB-HEADERS

Just like the one above, sub-headers are a great way of guiding readers through the story without having them have to dive in fully.“The key here is making sure your sub-headers build upon one another,” says Bailis, “so that if people are just reading those they understand the flow of how the article goes.”

  • Also, break up the text with frequent line breaks.
  • People tend to avoid dense paragraphs of text.
  • You have to admit, it’s easier and more inviting to read this way.
  • And, if you can’t tell, utilizing bullet-points is yet another way of breaking down your content so it’s clearly delivered.

In addition, make sure to bold key concepts in order to highlight them.

“Or even use pull-up quotes in order to show something really insightful,” Bailis recommends.

Last but not least, be sure to read over your piece to see if you can just focus on the sub-headers, quotes and bullet points and still understand the full story.

“Remember that just because people scan your content doesn’t mean they’re not engaged with it. It’s just them optimizing the use of their time. If what they scan is really useful, they’ll probably go back and read it in-depth and they’re also likely to come back to your content in the future.”