You know what I don’t understand? Why people say this:
“People don’t actually read text on websites.”
If I had a bottled hour of sleep for every time I heard that, I’d never need to go to bed again. Dead serious. And I LOVE sleep.
Yes, there are people who don’t read much web content—many of them don’t read books either—but it’s unfair to say that people generally just don’t read, particularly when they’re on the web.
We’ve read all kinds of articles and watched all kinds of webinars that tell us that people don’t read content. If that’s so, why is there so much text on the web if no one’s reading any of it?
What’s that? Did you guys just hear the wise guy in the back?
He’s saying “they skim!”
One point for you, Mr. Troll. Have one of these nice browser cookies.
The troll is right though—users do skim. Until they find what they’re looking for. Then they read.
In an nutshell, here’s what happens:
- Users get to a page and skim the headings
- They stop and read lists like this one
- They look out for keywords
- Until they find what they’re looking for—then they read.
Yup. They read.
The truth in the “users don’t read” argument lies in the fact that users don’t always start at the top of your page and read all the way until the bottom. To be fair, not all people do that with books either.
While we’re on it, why do you expect users to read from top to bottom? They came to your site to find something. They’ve learned to look for it, get it, and leave. Do you know how they learned that?
After being told several times that users don’t read, we’ve created ways to excuse ourselves from thinking hard about the text content that we’re creating and how we’re presenting it.
Shame on us.
You may never get every user to read every word you’ve placed on a page from top to bottom, but there are some basic crimes you may be committing that will keep anyone from wanting to read what you have to say. Brace yourselves.
Your content is crap.
Someone had to say it. Might as well be me. Your written content is poorly written, way off brand, overly whimsical, or adds no interest. Don’t cry! You might just need a good editor to proofread it. Maybe you need a copywriter to help you say what you need to say in the right brand voice. It’s also possible that you’re just writing because you think you’re supposed to say something (don’t feel bad, a lot of people do this). Whatever it is, content that users don’t find useful will be ignored—you don’t want that.
Your lines run too far across the screen.
Dude. Don’t make anyone’s eyes do laps across the screen. They’ll get lost. They’ll get annoyed. Then they’ll quit. Ideally, you want to have around 65 characters on a line: Chris Coyier wrote a really great article about this that you might want to take a look at. If your website has a really wide space allotted for text, you might want to talk to your web developer about creating a more optimal reading space. Or, if they never mentioned this, you might want to get a new web developer. #Shade.
There’s no space between the lines.
If your post has lines that are stacked on top of each other like two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions – on a sesame seed bun, then it might be too hard to read. Just as you don’t want to make anyone’s eyes do laps across the screen, you don’t want to push the lines so close together that users have a hard time keeping track of which line they’re currently reading.
Your font choices are wrong.
That handwritten looking font might be great—for the headline of a poster—but it’s not working for your main content area. And sure, 12pt font is great for an essay, but the web is not a printed page in Times New Roman with one inch margins all around. That lovely shade of gray you’re using? Really isn’t standing out against that white background. To create a nice user experience, you want the reading to be easy. For that, you’ll need around 16 pixels of a simple font, with strong color contrast, to make reading so easy that your readers forget that they’re actually reading and focus on learning.
You don’t have any lists.
Lists make things easy to get through. Like shopping lists, for example. Milk, check. Carrots, check. If you’re giving your users great stuff—especially if it needs breaking down in order to be understood properly—you might want to look at lists as a way to break up some of your text so that users aren’t missing it as they skim for it. Don’t believe me? Scientists agree.
You don’t have any sub headers.
You might have been one of the users who jumped over that nice piece of introductory text I wrote (don’t worry, I’m not judging you) and skipped right down to this section because you saw a sub header that looked like something you’d want to read more about. What you were looking for or interested in was highlighted right here–where you could find it without having to do a lot of work. Do you think your users will behave any differently?
There are many, many reasons why users might not read the full text on your site. Odds are many of them are multitasking and you really don’t have their full attention. Or, you might be solving an immediate problem for them that—now that you’ve provided a solution—they can go solve (like the time I Googled how to put out a grease fire).
I can’t guarantee you that users will now curl up on your site with a cup of hot chocolate or a glass of wine and treat it like the novel you want it to be. I can say, however, that there are ways to give users fewer reasons to skim more than they read.