Understanding How Web Users Read

The Web is a user-directed medium, where people adopt information-seeking strategies to save time. They tend not to seek information in a linear fashion. Instead, they rely on the visual cues that give off the strongest signal that their answer is nearby. People direct their attention to these areas and ignore everything else.

Tip: Hire a Web Writer

On the Web, anyone can be a publisher. This great equalizing factor provides a bounty of opportunities, but unfortunately many organizations dump information on Web sites without much thought as to how usable it is. Good content always rises above dreck.

If you don't have a skilled Web content writer or editor already, get one. Online content and printed material require different writing styles, and not all writers can successfully move between the two. Besides checking grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure, Web writers can tighten content and make structuring suggestions that will significantly improve the readability of your Web site.

We aren't suggesting that people never read information on the Web. How much people actually read depends on their goals and the level of information they need. In general, people scan first to sniff out the main points and then, if necessary, comb the page for more details. People who need in-depth information (such as for research projects) still scan, but reading is more deliberate on content-targeted pages.

If people are able to quickly recognize cues that point them to the targeted information, they'll happily follow the trail. However, if they don't immediately see anything of significance or feel overwhelmed, they'll abandon that path (or page) and try something else. Sometimes this means going back and selecting something else from a previous page.

Burn your users too many times, however, and they leave the site altogether and may never return. Regardless of how inherently interesting or important you think your content is, if your site doesn't make it easy for visitors to quickly grasp your purpose, their excitement vaporizes right at the point where the payoff should be.

Write for the way people read on the Web. Design your content to match human behavior and tailor it for optimum scannability and comprehension

What does this mean for your Web site? Write for the way people read on the Web. In order to capture and hold their attention, design your content to match human behavior and tailor it for optimum scannability and comprehension.

Why Users Scan

Life would be great if only users would read your content carefully. Don't they know that it's good?

No, they don't. Even if your content is in fact good and valuable, users most likely won't know that during their initial visit to your site. Scanning is an efficient method to home in on useful content. It takes less cognitive effort, so users can focus attention on fruitful areas.

Basic information-foraging theory (discussed in more detail in Chapter 2) states that users maximize their rate of gain across their entire time on the Internet. For any one topic a reader might need to research, there are likely to be hundreds of Web sites that contain seemingly endless amounts of related text. When faced with this much information, users absolutely must be able to scan and prioritize. Within a very few well-spent seconds, they decide whether to stay and read more, or move on to the next site.

Prioritizing Web Usability
Prioritizing Web Usability
ISBN: 0321350316
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 107

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