Want visitors to actually read your web page?

29th September 2010 | Posted in Web content

Text still rules when it comes to attracting attention. Big headlines, short paragraphs and smaller fonts for full content could be the key to keeping readers interested right to the bottom of the page.

One of my favourite content gurus, Gerry McGovern, has recently picked up on some Eyeball research about what people look at first when they visit a web site.

The finding that he highlights is that written content is more important than images on the web. That’s contrary to perceived wisdom when it comes to print.

The eye-tracking research sits people down in front of screens and uses technology to track how they read pages, specifically of news sites. Here are afew of their findings:

  • Dominant headlines most often attract the eye first – especially if they’re in the top left-hand corner of the page, and quite often in the top right as well
  • Larger type promotes page scanning while smaller type encourages people to read content more thoroughly
  • People read the left-hand side of headlines and the following “blurb” which summarises the story, but may not actually read the whole line, so the first couple of words need to grab attention
  • When it comes to actual articles, shorter paragraphs work better than longer ones
  • If there’s an introductory paragraph to an article, 95% of visitors read all or part of that paragraph, but those that read the blurb thoroughly spend less time reading the body of the article
  • New information seems to be best assimilated when it’s presented using animation and text – although facts are best recalled when provided as just text

Gerry McGovern has followed up this study with some internal research that seems to back up these findings. He predicts that “The Web is primarily a text-driven medium and will remain so despite the rise of video”.

How does advertising, which is primarily image-driven, fare in a world where text is apparently king? It could be this very fact that deters people from looking too closely at images. After all, the ads are generally placed in prominent positions on pages, so it becomes second nature to home in on the “real” content and ignore the images. Google, as is pointed out on Gerry’s blog, does not sell image-based ad-words.

So the bottom line would seem to be – if you want to get and hold attention on the web, use text. If you want to explain more thoroughly how your systems work or what your products look like, add multimedia to the mix.

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