When we build websites we ask our clients to provide us with the content before we start the design. The content is basically the text and images. Clients often asks for advice on how to write for the web, my immediate answer is always “keep it short.” I’ve always based this answer on my own lack of interest in reading loads of text when I’m visiting websites. However, I thought it was about time that I researched this more so that I could give better and more qualified advice.

Research results on how little we read.

  • On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.
  • On average people stay on a page 4.4 seconds longer per extra hundred words.
  • If highly literate you may be able to read at about 250 words per minute that allows you to read an extra 18 words in 4.4 seconds.
Percentage of words users could read compared against number of words on a page
Chart on percentage read compared to amount of words on a page

Chart soured directly from www.useit.com/alertbox/percent-text-read.html

I’ve taken some key results from the research by Jakob Nielsen you can view his whole article at http://www.useit.com/alertbox/percent-text-read.html.

As you can see from these results you don’t have much time to get your information across nor do you have many words to do it in. In fact at this point I’ve already written over 200 words and according to the graph above on average you won’t even read this far. If you have I think you deserve a prize in recognition of your dedication. So subject to availability and for UK residents only, fill in the comments form at the bottom of the page, make sure to include your email address and we will then contact you and send you a Gingerbread Man. I know, a whole gingerbread man!

How to let users get information as quickly as possible?

We’ve established that most people won’t read a ¼ of what you write. So here are some bullet points on how to make it easy for people to scan you prose and get the information they need.

  • Use Bullet Points – Well fired Bullet Points will contain all the information that users will need without having to read the rest of the page.
  • Write Less – If people are not going to read most of what you write why bother.
  • Get key information in 1st paragraph – If the 1st paragraph is reasonably short people may read it. So try and get the key information in at this point.
  • Break page into sections with sub headings – People will scroll down the page scanning the text hoping that the information will just jump out at them. Use sub headings to attract the eye to specific sections of the page.
  • Use bold text – Same reasons as the previous bullet point.
  • Avoid “Happy Talk” at all costs – Here is an example of Happy Talk:

Holyrood Florist….So much more than Flowers.

New owner; Award winning florist Victoria and her highly trained team would like to welcome you to Holyrood Florist……..So much more than Flowers.

Specialising in exquisite floral design from cutting edge to traditional, alongside bla bla bla bla…

  • Use Blockquotes – Blockquotes are normally styled differently and will stand out from the body text, an is example above.
  • Table of content – If the page really needs to be long then include a table of content with a links to each section. Wikipidia is a good example.
  • Avoid technical jargon –  You cannot assume that everyone visiting your website is from a technical community.

If all else fails make it really easy for people to contact if they want more information.