How people browse your site and how to design for it.

When people visit your website, they aren’t reading much of your content. Instead, they’re scanning pages to find a mention of the items they’re interested in. They’re getting a feeling for whether the content on the page will help them find what they’re looking for. Using eye-tracking technology, we can see where people look on the page. You can see that people’s gaze follows a kind of F pattern on the page, moving across the page near the top and then moving down the left hand side with movements across the page from time to time.

What this means is that the first paragraphs of the page will get the most attention. Subsequently, it’s typically headings and bulleted lists that get read. Also, even for things that people read, it’s the first eleven letters of each chunk that are the most scanned. This tells us what we need to do to get our point across. We need to put a summary of the page’s content in the first paragraph. We need to make sure that page headings convey useful information, both about the content and about the information in the subsequent paragraphs.

We also need to frontload headings and bullet points with the information-carrying words. It’s only when people get to the information that they think is what they need that they start reading in more detail. Even then, it’s quite normal for them to skip whole words. As an example, look at the sentence on the screen. Count the number of times that the letter F appears in this sentence, I’ll give you a couple of seconds. How many Fs did you count? Even with the fact that I gave the game away by telling you about skipping whole words, I wonder whether you saw more than three.

There are actually six, but because most people skipped the small filler words, like of in this instance, they often get missed. There is one exception to this skipping behavior and that’s people that have lower literacy, either because their reading level isn’t very high or because the site’s text isn’t in their primary language. For those people, the only way to understand the text is to read every word. As you can imagine, this can slow them down considerably. One way that people in this position cope is by skipping whole chunks of text in order to move through pages faster.

A lot of those people could be trying to use your site. The best thing you can do to make a good reading experience is to create the most concise and easy to read text that you possibly can. People will follow the path from the category page all the way through to an individual detail page because the information they need is very specific.

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