To write effectively we must understand how people choose content online.
Watch someone use a TV remote, or track arrivals and departures at the airport, or view the major news channels, with scroll bars, turn cubes and sidebar pulldown boxes.
How do people read? They don’t read in a traditional fashion. They scan.
Michael Gass on Social Media Today notes the Nielsen Norman Group’s research finding that 79 percent of test users scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word. Nielsen text construction tips:
1. Highlighted keywords
2. Meaningful sub-heads
3. Bulleted lists
4. One idea per paragraph
5. Inverted pyramid style – conclusion first
6. Half the word count (or less)
From years of newspaper page design (Gannett and McClatchy papers) and constant guidance from Poynter Institute “eyetrack” studies, I absolutely agree. Content not tailored for the scan reader is wasted effort.
That’s a shame. Just a little design help (usually resisted) improves the chances that a reader will consume. Write it right for reward.