You may be surprised to learn that people read a bit differently when it comes to the web. In the industry a great deal of research has been conducted on user experience, so we have tried and true techniques to improve user engagement and the likelihood of conversions. I don't know about you, but I usually need to be won over with cold hard facts, so let's dive into the research first.
Over a decade ago, user experience experts at Nielsen Norman Group were the first to discover that people scan web pages in an F-shaped pattern. Eye tracking studies on 232 participants over thousands of webpages displayed the same pattern. People scan the top of the page horizontally in two large passes (forming the two bars of the ‘F’) and then skim vertically down the left side of the page.
Eye tracking research also uncovered that the majority of people read roughly 20% of the content on a web page. On average, you have 10-20 seconds to engage users with your content. They found that people are usually in research mode when reading online. They're looking for specific information (vs digesting each word, like when reading a book).
Think for a moment about your last online shopping experience and the sheer amount of information at your fingertips. Depending on the cost of your purchase, you most likely compared the same item on less than ten different sites and then made your purchase. You probably felt good about making an informed decision, even without taking into account all the information available online (because let's be real, you'd be reading for months).
Psychologists call this phenomenon satisficing. 'Satisfice' is a combination of the words 'satisfy' and 'suffice' that refers to when we go with the 'good enough' answer that meets our basic requirements. The volume of information available is so vast and numerous, we have to keep our options manageable if we're ever going to make a decision. Understandably, the length and degree users will read, compare and explore will vary depending on the subject. (Think about the time and research required to buy life insurance vs. a toaster).
If we follow users' natural tendencies, we can better help them find the information they need. One way we can do this is by displaying important information at the top of the page. Journalists use a technique known as an inverted-pyramid because it grabs reader's attention. Using this same writing style, we can cut away the text after our introduction and still get the main idea across to our audience.
Similarly, you'll notice many highly regarded websites include clear, short value proposition statements and headlines. For instance, the best product websites don't display paragraphs of long form text at a time on their homepage because they don't want to risk losing their reader's precious attention.
To get here, you should repeatedly ask yourself: “so what?” and “what now?” when reading your site's messaging. Reframe your message until its clear why the information is useful and relevant to your users. Need a starting point?
Shape your copy to answer:
Spell it out. Provide clear directives to your audience and reduce the risk they leave your page.
It’s also good practice to avoid using excessive industry jargon and difficult vocabulary. Even if your audience can read at a higher reading level, it's generally easier for people to read simple text while scanning. Overcomplicated language risks disengaging users, leading them to look for information elsewhere.
Improve your writing further by:
One way to do this is by using Microsoft Word’s Flesch-Kincaid scale & readability statistics. This lets you see the average grade level and readability score of your text. The closer the Reading Ease number is to 100, the better. I recommend trying an app like Hemingway app. It rates the readability of your text by grade level and highlights suggestions for improvement. The helpful readability scale even adjusts as you edit your text in real time. In fact, I used it to create this blog post!
A rewarding user experience is no accident - it's the result of empathizing with your users' needs, habits and desires. As we leverage our natural tendency as 'satisficers,' we will get closer to creating content that is more engaging and more likely to influence your users' behavior. Whether it's a sign up or click you're after, incorporating these simple tips will help you achieve your end goals while also meeting your users' needs.