Visitors don’t read text on websites; instead they leave as soon as possible. Take this into account when you create a website.
One click to leave
Your website is only one click away from a million other websites. Grab the reader’s attention, and keep it, or they are just as likely to leave your site and head for more interesting pages. Recent research shows you have about 1.5 seconds to capture their attention.
Visitors skim and leave
Research has shown people seldom actually read a web page. They skim the page quickly and only stop to read when something takes their interest.
Many people also dislike reading on a computer screen and either print off interesting material or just move on.
Cut the guff
To gain and hold your visitor’s attention:
- put the important information first
- get to the point quickly
- offer highlights
- break the text into easily accessible chunks.
Keep sentences and paragraphs short. Aim for about 15 to 20 words maximum in a sentence and five or six lines for a paragraph.
Use headings and lists
Use plenty of headings and lists where appropriate.
A heading should be a headline that summarises the paragraphs below it. Think: what would a newspaper put as the heading? A reader should be able to grasp the overall meaning of a page just by looking at headings.
Numbered or bullet point lists are easier to read and grasp than long lines of text.
Avoid jargon, abbreviations and acronyms, and be sure to explain the ones you do use. Your organisation might know what NZXYZ means, but does your visitor?
Use fast-loading images
Graphics, images, charts and diagrams are often useful, but beware making the page load too slowly. Use image editing software to reduce the file size of the image. If you need a high resolution image (eg larger than 30KB), then use a small ‘thumbnail’ picture and link to the larger version.
Choose page length carefully
People are easily put off by having to scroll, and scroll, and scroll. On the other hand, they don’t like having to click, and click, and click to read things.
Think carefully about whether and how to divide text into multiple pages. Will readers have slow or fast connections? Will they want to print the item, rather than reading on screen? Can you provide the information in more than one way, to match what visitors want?
Leave ’empty’ space
Use plenty of white space too. Don’t try to “cram” a lot of text into a small space. A ‘crowded’ page is hard to read.
Think about fonts and typography
If your web designer is setting fonts for the web page then remember that while serif fonts such as Times are fantastic for print, sans serif fonts such as Verdana work best on the computer screen.
Try to keep lines of text from getting too long (by using Cascading Style Sheets, not by adding manual breaks). Lines that are too short or too long are hard to read.
Add some space between lines as well. Lines that are crammed too close together are hard to read.
Crawford Kilian’s Adapting Print to the Web is a very useful article.
Written for and reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, October 2004. The item has been edited for reproduction here.