Time is money, and that adage is doubly true in the modern, fast-paced world of the internet.
Users are notoriously impatient; they simply don’t have the time or patience to read through huge blocks of text, no matter how well-written it may be. They’ll move on if they can’t find what they’re looking for quickly.
Here’s some stat to back me up:
- The average user attention span in 2022 is 8 seconds (source).
- Only 16% of people read word-by-word; the rest skim (source).
So, what’s a poor, time-strapped webmaster to do? How can you make your content more scannable and accessible to impatient users?
Scannable Websites: What Is it and Why Should You Care?
Most website designers create pages with huge blocks of text interspersed with pictures, videos, and graphics. It may look pretty, but it’s not practical.
How People Read the Web
Users don’t read web pages. They scan them. When users visit your site, they’re not going to read every word of your content; instead, they quickly skim through the page, looking for specific keywords and cues that tell them whether or not your content is relevant to what they’re looking for.
When users visit your site, they scan the page in an “F” pattern, looking for specific keywords and cues that tell them whether or not your content is relevant to what they’re looking for.
They’ll leave if they don’t see what they’re looking for at a casual glance.
Scannable webpages are created with this user behavior in mind. They’re designed to be easily scanned and parsed for information, with the most important information placed where users are most likely to look.
Another reason to make your website scannable is that search engines like Google now consider how users interact with your site when determining your ranking.
If users bounce off your site quickly, it’s a sign that your content isn’t relevant to what they’re looking for, and, as a result, your ranking will suffer.
How User Read the First Paragraph
Online users aren’t readers; they’re web users. They don’t read the web. They use it, says TJ Larkin, the principal of Larkin Communication Consulting — get the difference.
Screen reading isn’t the same as reading a book, a newspaper, or even an article online. Users don’t read top to bottom, left to right, not as they do offline.
If anything, people read word-by-word online only 16% of the time; the rest of the time, they’re scanning for information that’s relevant to what they’re looking for.
So, if they’re not reading, what are they doing?
Web users are constantly seeking something — whether it’s information, a product, or a solution to a problem. And they’re not going to waste their time reading through vast blocks of text to find it.
Xeroc PARC did a study on this, and here’s what they found:
- 71% of the time, web visitors collect: They search multiple pages, trawling different sites for information. For example, they might be researching a holiday, looking for reviews of different hotels before making a booking.
- 25% are Hoping to Find: They’re looking for something specific but don’t know where to find it. For example, they might be looking for a recipe but don’t know which site to go to.
- 2% Want to Explore: They’re just browsing with no specific goal. For example, they might be killing time at work, looking for something to do.
- 2% Are Monitoring: They check to see if something has changed. For example, they might be checking the weather forecast or stock prices.
As you can see, only 2% of web users are just browsing; the rest are looking for something specific.
So, what does this mean for you?
It means that if you want to keep users on your site, you need to give them what they’re looking for — and you need to do it quickly.
How Long Do Users Stay on a Webpage?
So, as users scan a webpage, how long will they likely spend on it?
In short, not long.
- An average page visit lasts under 60 minutes, according to NNgroup.
- 55% of visitors spend less than 15 seconds on a page, according to time.
- On average, visitors spend 19 seconds on a page, according to NNgroup again.
During this time, according to authors of “How People Read on the Web,” Kathryn Whitenton, Kara Pernice, and Jakon Nielsen, users will:
- Land their eyes 72 times on different areas of the page (called “fixations”).
The eyes will be negotiating page elements at mind-blowing speeds, taking in as much information as possible.
Now, let’s do some little bit of calculations:
Since users spend 19 seconds on a page and fixate their eyes 72 times during that time, each fixation lasts for about 0.26 seconds.
So, as you can see, you don’t have long to make an impression.
We can conclusively say that users don’t read web pages; they use them to seek the information they want.
And if you want to keep them on your site, you need to make it easy for them to find what they’re looking for.
How Much do they Actually Read?
As users’ eyes race across the screen, they’re looking for specific things — keywords, phrases, and cues that tell them whether or not your content is relevant to what they’re looking for.
And when they find it, they fixate on it.
So, how much of the page do they actually read?
About 20% of the content, according to NNgroup analysis.
And that’s being generous.
In reality, it’s probably less than that.
The good thing about this study is that it was completely natural. The group analysed 50,000 page views that European psychologists, computer scientists, engineers, and other highly educated professionals naturally interacted with while going about their daily lives.
So, we can trust the data.
Let’s break it down:
- On average, website visitors read nearly half of the information on pages with 111 words or less.
- The more the word count went up, the more the number of time users spent on the page. But reading time didn’t keep up with the additional word count. They only spend 4.4 seconds more on additional 100 words.
Assuming users take 1 minute to read 200 words of text (a very generous assumption), that means they’re only reading 15% of the additional words.
200 words = 60 seconds
100 words = 30 seconds
4.4/30 * 100 = 15%
So, what does this mean for you?
It means that if your content is longer than 111 words, chances are users aren’t going to read all of it.
And if it’s much longer, they’ll only read a fraction of it.
According to Nielsen, web visitors spend enough time on a webpage to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit.
However, during this time, they’re not entirely reading the text. Instead, they only read 20% of the words on an average page.
What Constitutes the 20% they Read?
What are they looking for?
Conversion XL was kind enough to break it down for us:
- 97% of them Read Headlines: This is why your headlines need to be catchy and exciting.
They averaged 2.9 seconds, enough time to read 7-word headlines.
- 98% Read Decks: Decks are the summaries of your articles that usually appear below headlines.
Users spend an average of 2.8 seconds on them, which is just enough time to read about 7 or 8 words.
- More than 90% of users Read Captions: Captions are summaries of photos or videos that usually appear below them.
Web users also look at the following:
- Bulleted lists
- Bold-faced texts
As you can see, if you want to ensure that your content is being read, that’s where you put the most important information.
Your headlines, decks, and captions must be exciting and informative enough to make users want to read more.
Consideration for Creating Scannable Webpages
So, how do you go about making your webpage more scannable?
It begins with asking yourself a few key questions:
- Why are users arriving at my site? What’s their intent?
- What kind of information are they looking for?
- How can I structure my content so that they can find what they’re looking for quickly and easily?
What Makes Content Scannable?
The answer is simple: easy-to-read formatting.
You want to make it easy for users to find the information they’re looking for without wading through a sea of text.
Here are some tips:
- Use short paragraphs: No one likes huge blocks of text. They’re intimidating and hard to read. Keep your paragraphs short — no more than 3 or 4 sentences.
- Use subheads: Breaking your content into smaller sections makes it easier to digest. It also makes it easier to skim.
- Use bullet points: Like subheads, bullet points make your content more scannable. They also make it seem less daunting.
- Use images and videos: People are visual creatures. Adding images and videos to your content will make it more exciting and easier to consume.
- Use easy-to-read fonts: Sans serif fonts like Arial and Verdana are easier to read than serif fonts like Times New Roman. And you want to make it as easy as possible for people to read your content.
- Use proper spacing: Adding extra space between paragraphs and lines makes your content more scannable and easier on the eyes.
- Highlight important information: Bolding, italicizing, and underlining important information will help users find it quickly.
- Use lists: People love lists. They’re easy to read and easy to follow.
- Use short sentences: No one likes huge, run-on sentences. They’re hard to read and even harder to understand. Keep your sentences short and sweet.
- Use active voice: Passive voice is tedious. Active voice is direct and engaging. Write in an active voice, and you’ll keep your readers interested.
- Use simple words: You want your content to be understandable by as many people as possible. That means using simple words and short, easy-to-read sentences.
Now that you know what makes content scannable, it’s time to put these tips into practice.
Start by looking at your existing content and see if it’s scannable. If it’s not, make the necessary changes.
How to Read Readers from Where their Eyes Are At
To make your content more scannable, you need to know where people are looking when scanning a page.
Web visitors spend 57% of their time above the fold, which is the area of a page that’s visible without scrolling.
That means that the majority of your content should be above the fold.
People also tend to scan a page in an F-shaped pattern. They start at the top left and move down the left side of the page.
They spend 74% of their time looking at the first two screens of a website. After that, their attention starts to drop off.
You must put your most important information at the top of the page.
Users also tend to pay more attention to the left side of the page than the right. So, when you’re placing information on your page, be sure to keep this in mind.
How to Improve Users’ Attention Span?
Photo Credit: SEMRUSH
Now that you know where users are looking when scanning a page, the next thing you want to do is improve their attention span.
You want to keep their attention focused on your content, so they read it.
But how else do you do that?
Here are some tips:
- Know your audience
- Create engaging content
- Focus on quality
Everyone loves games. They’re fun, engaging, and can even educational.
You can use gamification to make your content more engaging and increase users’ attention spans.
Gamification is the process of using game elements in non-game contexts.
That can be anything from adding badges and points to providing leaderboards and rewards.
You can use gamification to make your content more engaging and fun to read.
And when users are having fun, they’re more likely to pay attention and keep reading.
Examples of gamification:
- Leader boards
- spin a wheel
- scratch cards
#2. Know your audience
You need to know your audience to keep users’ attention focused on your content.
You need to understand what they’re interested in and what they care about.
Only then can you create content that’s relevant and engaging.
To get to know your audience, you can:
- Send out surveys
- Analyze your website data
- Study your competition
- Use social media
While general advice is good, specific advice is better.
At some point, you’ll have to create buyer personas.
- Who are your target readers?
- Are they men or women?
- What’s their age group?
- What do they do for a living?
- What are their interests?
The more specific you can be, the better.
Once you have a good understanding of who your target reader is, you can start creating content that’s relevant to them.
#3. Create Engaging Content
How users engage with your content will determine how successful it is.
If you want people to read your content, you must make it engaging.
But what makes content engaging?
Here are some things to consider:
- Is it well-written?
- Does it have a strong headline?
- Are the sentences short and easy to read?
- Is it visually appealing?
- Does it have interesting facts and statistics?
- Are there images, videos, or infographics?
- Is it interactive?
- Can people comment on it?
#4. Focus on Quality
Quality over quantity is a mantra you should live by when creating content.
You might be tempted to write a lot of content to attract more readers.
But if that content isn’t good, people won’t read it. And they certainly won’t come back for more.
It’s better to focus on writing fewer pieces of high-quality content than many low-quality pieces.
Focusing on quality makes you more likely to engage and more likely to retain readers.
And that’s what you want, right?
Design a Webpage for Scannability
When designing your website, you need to keep scannability in mind.
Here are some things to consider:
- Use a simple layout with plenty of white space
- Use headings and subheadings to break up your text
- Use bullet points and lists whenever possible
- Add images, videos, and infographics
- Make sure your website is mobile-friendly
- Use an easy-to-read font
If you keep these things in mind, you’ll be well on your way to creating a website that’s easy to scan.
And when your website is easy to scan, users will be likelier to stick around and read your content.
Questions to Ask Yourself When Designing for Scannability
So, how can you make sure your website is scannable?
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What’s the intent of the people arriving on this page?
- What do you want them to do on this page?
- What kind of information do they need from this page?
- Can the visitors see the next step they must take in their buyer’s journey?
Using Evernote’s homage as an example, we can see that the company has done an excellent job of making its website scannable.
When visitors land on the homepage, they can immediately see:
What Evernote is about
Learn how to sign up
Jump to other pages to learn about Evernote’s features, download link, etc.
Evernote’s website is an excellent example of how to make a website scannable.
The site’s headline, “Tame Your Work, Organize Your Life,” is clear and concise, and it’s easy to see what the company is all about.
The use of headings and subheadings makes the text easy to scan, and the app screenshot makes it easy to see what Evernote can do.
The company has also included a call-to-action (CTA) telling visitors to “Sign Up for Free,” – making it easy for them to take the next step in their buyer’s journey.
- Scannable pages like this are more likely to engage and convert visitors into customers.
That’s because they tell the visitor what they need to do next, making it easy for them to take action.
- They also reduce bounce rates because visitors can easily find what they’re looking for on the page. Customers are less likely to get confused or frustrated and leave the site.
- Lastly, scannable web pages make your website feel more credible. Since customers can get all the information they need from a sweeping glance, they’re more likely to trust your site – and your business.
Creating a scannable website should be a top priority for any business that wants to improve its online presence.
3 Things You Should Do to Make Your Webpages More Scannable
Scannability doesn’t happen by chance. You have to plan for it.
Here are three things you can do to make your web pages more scannable:
#1. Use Visual Hierarchy
Visual hierarchy is the order in which your visitors will see the elements on your page.
It’s the way of organizing your website’s content in a way that’s easy for visitors to scan.
For instance, when people land on a website, they expect to see the headline first, some information about the company or author, and then the body of the text.
If you don’t use visual hierarchy on your web pages, your visitors will get lost in a sea of text and never find what they’re looking for.
Customers also look at the top of the page to find navigation menus. So it’s crucial to place your navigation menus in a prominent position on the page.
#2. Leverage Negative Space
Negative space is the area of your webpage that’s left empty. It’s the space between your page’s text, images, and other elements.
Using negative space effectively can help you to create a more scannable website.
That’s because it can help to break up the text and make it easier to scan.
It also helps to highlight the most important elements on your page.
Here’s an article you want to read to find out more about negative spaces and how to leverage them in your design:
Here are a few pointers on how to use negative space effectively:
- Use negative space on your title, header, and subheader to make them stand out
- Use white space to direct the user’s attention to the most important elements on the page
- Use negative space on your navigational menus to make them easy to find
- Use images and videos to break up the text and add visual interest to your page
- Remove anything else from your page that’s not necessary
#3. Make the Next Step Intuitive
The last thing you want is your visitors to get lost on your website.
You want to make it easy for them to find what they’re looking for – and take the next step in their buyer’s journey.
The best way to do this is to use calls-to-action (CTAs). CTAs are buttons or links that tell visitors what they need to do next.
For instance, if you want visitors to sign up for your newsletter, you would use a CTA that says “Sign Up Now.”
If you want visitors to buy your product, you will use a CTA that says “Buy Now.”
Make sure your CTAs are placed in prominent positions on your page and stand out from the rest of the page.
You can do this by using a different colour or making them more conspicuous than the other elements on your page.
You also want to use strong language that tells visitors what they need to do.
By making your CTAs more visible and using more assertive language, you increase the chances that visitors will take the next step in their buyer’s journey.