Are Website Visitors Reading Your Content? Really?

Getting Website Visitors to Read

Website Visitors reading websites

In this post, we want to explore some ideas about how we can encourage website visitors to actually read your content.

After all…

With all of the analytic data on website page views, bounce rates and the like, it is difficult to know if your website visitors are actually reading your material.

The term ‘read’ is a misnomer because most people don’t READ.  They SCAN at best and do so in seconds.

And there is a lot of data suggesting many website visitors don’t make it through the first two paragraphs before they bail.  Low bounce rates will confirm this.

But there are action steps you can take to get them to slow down…just a bit.

Action Steps 

What steps can you take to get website visitors to pay more attention and read the content that you spent so much time creating?

We’ll focus on website…:

  1.  Images
  2. Headlines
  3. Readability
  4. Reading Patterns
  5. Content

1.  Images

Rather than explain a process in excruciating detail, an image of the process will do a much better and quicker job of communicating.

Remember our brains are wired to comprehend images much faster than the written word.

2.  Headlines 

Headlines are great because they are the first thing your website visitors sees.  They are big and bold.

Ideally, your headlines are addressing the same questions and issues your audience is struggling to overcome.  And you’re using their language to communicate that you really do understand them.

Some offer formulaic versions of headlines – the how-to headline, the list headline, the shocking headline, etc.  Others stress adding some emotion into your headlines.  You may need to test a variety of headlines to see which work best with your audience.

Here are some free tools to ensure your headlines are hitting the right notes:  Advanced Marketing Institute and the Coschedule Headliner Analyzer.   Each works differently , but both make for stronger headlines.  You decide.

3.  Readability

Can your audience easily read your website content?  Or is it so heavy with text, they leave in a flash.

Is the font size large enough for your audience or is it one of those fancy designer fonts that no one without 20/20 can read?  If your market is all about graphic or interior design or architecture, then an unusual font may be appropriate.  If not, keep it readable.

  • Serif fonts (e.g. Times, Courier, etc.) tend to be more readable and are more traditional.
  • San serif fonts (e.g. Arial, Century Gothic) tend to be more contemporary and a bit less formal.
  • All fonts can be made larger and that help readability.

No one likes to work at reading. The truth is no one WILL work at reading…so make it easy for them.

4.  Reading Patterns

How website visitors read website pages is dictated by what is actually on the page – the layout, headlines, bold copy, color, images, ads, graphics, sign-up forms, etc.  All move the eyes around the page.

Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group (a very bright fellow about all things on the Internet) has done eye tracking research of how people consume a website page.  His bottom line?

F is for FAST.

According to Nielsen’s research:

• Users first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area. This initial element forms the F’s top bar.

• Next, users move down the page a bit and then read across in a second horizontal movement that typically covers a shorter area than the previous movement. This additional element forms the F’s lower bar.

• Finally, users scan the content’s left side in a vertical movement. Sometimes this is a fairly slow and systematic scan that appears as a solid stripe on an eye tracking heat map. Other times users move faster, creating a spottier heat map. This last element forms the F’s stem

 Website visitors - F Pattern

Heat maps from user eye tracking studies of three websites. The areas where users looked the most are colored red; the yellow areas indicate fewer views, followed by the least-viewed blue areas. Gray areas didn’t attract any fixations.

The above heat maps show how users read three different types of Web pages:

  • an article in the “about us” section of a corporate website (far left),
  • a product page on an e-commerce site (center), and
  • a search engine results page (SERP; far right).

As you can see from these examples…

Heat map your website pages to see the patters. Most likely, you’ll find your readers are following an F pattern.  You can also test a variety of layouts to see which is generating longer readership or more desired action.

Use this free heat map tool – SumoMe.

5. Content

Obviously, if website visitors are only scanning a page, it is your job to make it easy to do so.

Nielsen offered these suggestions to make it easier for readers to consume your content.

Users won’t read your text thoroughly in a word-by-word manner. Exhaustive reading is rare, especially when prospective customers are conducting their initial research to compile a shortlist of vendors. Yes, some people will read more, but most won’t.

The first two paragraphs must state the most important information. There’s some hope that users will actually read this material, though they’ll probably read more of the first paragraph than the second.

Start subheads, paragraphs, and bullet points with information-carrying words that users will notice when scanning down the left side of your content in the final stem of their F-behavior. They’ll read the third word on a line much less often than the first two words.

Here are some additional tips:

  • use shorter sentences to communicate
  • use an easy-to-read font
  • don’t forget to use images to communicate
  • highlight keywords with links, bold, italics, and color
  • one idea per paragraph
  • write like journalist by starting with the conclusion and follow with supporting arguments
  • edit and half the word count

To get visitors to actually read your content, it has to be easy to scan, concise and objective.

If you would like more information about Nielsen’s eye tracking study, you can find it on Nielsen’s website.


Sheila Hibbard

Sheila Hibbard takes the fluff, hype and confusion out of marketing and social media. She provides small business owners with straight forward, no nonsense marketing guidance and techniques that produce results based on her 35 plus years in advertising, communications, research, strategic planning and social media. Author of Marketing Online Made Simple - WHO.

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