Help Their Eyes Find It
Every one of your visitors is barraged daily with massive quantities of information. So are you. So am I. How do we cope? We become remarkably selective in our consumption of the stuff. Some folks say this is a function of impatience – I figure it’s a basic survival skill.
You’ve got a number of strategies available that allow you to streamline the information you present to your visitors: there’re your navigation schemes, your qualifying schemes, there’s locating site elements where your visitors expect to find them. Then there’s designing for scanning and skimming.
We’ve talked about this before, so I’ll spare you the exposition here. Suffice it to say, enough evidence suggests that if folks read online (and Jakob Nielsen says 79% of them don’t1), they read “shallow but wide” and pay attention to text before they look at pictures.2
So how are you going to grab their attention and communicate your message as quickly as possible? Try some of these tactics.
Headings are extremely important online. They are the points of reference on your Web page. They are also creative design elements. Headings create extra white space that allows your visitor to visually organize the information you are presenting. Look to print media for examples you might be able to adapt to your Web site.3
Pull quotes can be more than graphic fillers. They help capture a visitor’s attention, illuminate your key points and add style to your Web page. They also can help break up large blocks of information to aid scanning.4
Not everyone thinks pull quotes are brilliant solutions for scanners and skimmers. There is certainly one downside to graphic pull quotes: they generally don’t format properly in non-graphical browsers (such as Lynx text-only browser). In text-only incarnations, these graphic slices of text wind up embedded in the regular copy, so they look and read out of place. If you plan on using pull quotes, it’s a kindness to provide text-only versions as well.5
Within the paragraphs of your copy, some words and phrases are more important than others. When your visitor has made the decision to pay more attention to your copy, she’ll most likely skim it before truly committing to reading (if she even gets to a thorough reading). Highlighting or bolding is a way to distinguish the essence of your message.
Text hyperlinks give your visitors quick access to the content they want without making them figure out your navigation system or requiring them to click through multiple layers of your Web site. When they are used well, embedded links not only capture attention, they keep your visitors actively engaged in your conversion process by keeping them within the active window.
Big Picture Guidelines
Gerry McGovern produced this list of scan reading design guidelines, and they are well worth paying attention to (quoted in entirety):7
Jakob Nielsen reminds us that online we can communicate our points only if our text content:8
When it comes to scanning and skimming, as in all matters business-related, always keep in mind that your mileage may vary. Maybe one of these suggestions just won’t work for your application. So think of this stuff in the broader sense of principles rather than rules, then reach for your own brand of scannable opportunity!
1 “How Users Read on the Web.” Jakob Nielsen. Alertbox. October 1, 1977. http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9710a.html
2 Stanford-Poynter Eye-Tracking Study. http://www.poynterextra.org/et/i.htm
3 Linda Moore. http://www.gr-lakes.com/~lmoore/index.htm
4 Linda Moore. http://www.gr-lakes.com/~lmoore/index.htm
5 Adrian Holovaty. http://www.holovaty.com/blog/archive/2002/10/31/1234
6 “Getting Confidence from Lincoln.” UIE tips. Jared Spool. April 25, 2003. http://www.uie.com
7 “How you can design for the scan reader.” Gerry McGovern. April 29, 2002. http://www.gerrymcgovern.com/nt/2002/nt_2002_04_29_scan.htm 8 “Ever Wondered What Your Users Looked at First?” Sitepoint. http://www.sitepoint.com/article/273/17
First appeared at GrokDotCom
Future Now, Inc. is a marketing boutique focused on helping clients convert their website’s traffic into leads, customers and sales by applying persuasion architecture, copywriting, usability and web analytics to design, redesign and optimize websites and other online marketing efforts. Future Now provides its unique and proprietary processes and expertise with a broad range of middle-market B2B and B2C clients nationwide by providing training, consulting, speaking, assessment services and publishing.