Scannability - How People Read on the Web
Posted by Adam Hayes
Increasing the scannability of your website can determine just how many people will read what you have to say.
Did you know that 79 percent of website users do not read pages on the web word by word. They scan them. This has to do with how the web presents information. People cannot leisurely read a little here and a little there. Once a person leaves a page, it is very unlikely they will return to the exact spot from where they left off. This means that people are required to cover more information in a shorter amount of time.
Because of the limited amount of time you have to grab users attention we use an inverted pyramid model when presenting information on the web. You can quickly inform the user of whether or not your page provides the information they are looking for by using an inverted pyramid format. An inverted pyramid gives the main ideas at the beginning of the page and the less important items at the end. In many cases an abstract or small informative paragraph is given at the first of the document outlining the information that will be presented in the document.
You can further facilitate scanning by adding bold and strong elements to your design. Many of the standards groups argue that you shouldn't use a BOLD tag anymore. However, I have found that search engines are still more fond of BOLD tags compared to STRONG tags. By using BOLD tags you can quickly draw attention to key pieces of information. In print media you might rarely use bold. However, online, it is the key to getting the attention of an article scanner. Many suggest bolding 3 times more than you do in normal printed material.
You can also use unordered or ordered lists (UL and OL tags) to enumerate important ideas and concepts. These bulleted lists slow down a person's eyes increase the scannability of a document by listing quickly the main points.
Furthermore, search engines love these scannability tactics as well (thus further increasing your chances of getting your information "read"). Bolding helps a spider understand what keywords to associate with that page. Spiders also consider information in bulleted lists to be key and main ideas of a page.
- 79 percent of people do not read "word by word" on the web
- Use an inverted pyramid informational structure
- Use BOLD tags 3 times as much as normal
- Use bulleted lists to enumerate key concepts
- Search engine optimization will improve by using these concepts to get your better placement in search engines like Google and Yahoo
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