A study done by Nielsen Norman Group back in 2006 with 232 participants reading thousands of websites showed that the dominant reading pattern is in the shape of an F.
Look at the eye charts from the study to see exactly what I mean.
The areas where readers looked the most are colored in red. Yellow indicates fewer views. And the blue indicates the least amount of views.
Typically, a reader starts at the upper left-hand corner of the page and their eyes will horizontally scan the entire width of the text.
Next, the reader will move down the page a little bit and their eyes will horizontally scan again.
Users Scan – Adapt
Our human eyes are programmed to start at the top-left corner, scan horizontally, then drop down to the next line and do the same until we bump into something interesting.
Also, you’ll rarely find someone actually reading everything that’s written. Online users just skim through the basics.
Since the F-pattern is nowadays considered “old news”, I won’t dwell on it too much. It can all be boiled down to a few basic principles:
- Make your content digestible (web users don’t read – they scan)
- Build the first two paragraphs to contain the most important information
- Use subheads, bullet points and headlines to point out other relevant content
You can read more about the study here.
Ok, so now that we know the basic logic behind website reading patterns, let’s dive a bit deeper.
Please the Eye and Grab Attention
(Sorry I couldn’t come up with a better headline.)
Considering that we as humans are visual beings, we tend to let our perception be affected by visual elements we bump into. The same is valid in the online realm.
Understanding how a user perceives your web content will help you build a perfect conversion-oriented page. Or at least you’ll know what needs to be fixed.
Basically, the human brain is programmed to read (or better say scan) in a certain way.
Until the bump.
It can be a visual or a piece of copy that catches attention. Whatever it is, it has to lead to the next piece or attract a click.
Also, with website visitors, you have to make your point within the first 8 seconds (even less with mobile users). Or they will go to your competitor.
Everything has to work together smoothly to accomplish a common mission – the conversion.
By knowing where users look the most, you can tweak your message and design to focus more on specific parts of a page. That way you optimize the reading path for visitors, leaving them with a fluid experience and less friction toward conversion.
You direct them where to look and what to do.
In a KISSmetric blogpost from a few years back, I found some absolute gems about reading patterns and eye tracking studies. I’ll try to summarize them the best I can so you don’t have to read the whole thing (if you want, you still can, here’s the link).
Here are the key takeaways:
- Avoid Dead Weight Visuals
When building a landing page certain elements “pop” more than others. Make sure that the ones that catch the most attention are the one that matter. Cut down or modify elements that don’t encourage action.
- Embed Videos
Videos always grab more attention. Even in search results. When trying to rank, try embedding a video in your page. Human eyes tend to catch them first. Sometimes videos can help easily outperform existing authority pages.
- Use Directional Cues
When you want to emphasize certain elements of your page, or push users for certain actions, use directional cues. From plain and simple arrows to eyes gazing into a specific direction. Optimize imagery by using them as cues for the user.
- Don’t Stress About “The Fold”
Don’t over-clutter the fold section.
The content above the fold has to function as an intro. Clear, compelling and fast.
Important elements can be placed anywhere on your page. You do want to get the message across as soon as possible but sometimes it’s better to give the users time to read the copy.
- Send Simple and Sweet Newsletters
Once you earn your place in your prospect’s inbox, you want to stay there. Keep your emails clear and concise as eye-tracking studies show that principles similar to websites apply. You have no more than a minute of attention when a user opens your newsletter.
It’s best to apply the KISS principle.
- BONUS: Leverage Pre-Sale Prices
Once a visitor is hooked, he starts evaluating your pricing. And you should know that humans are pretty bad at evaluating price without context.
They dwell and explore available options. Ultimately, they base their decisions upon available information and clues. Show them how much they are saving and use pricing tactics to push certain offers.
There is no magic formula for knowing what best suits a certain audience. Your safest bet is to learn from others and run tests. Rinse and repeat until you build your very own magic formula.
*When you do it, let us know so we can feature your story 😉
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