How eye-tracking research can help you build a more effective blog

Research suggests that online readers have different reading patterns form people who read printed media. First, they have a tendency to read fast. In a few seconds, your visitors’ eyes move at amazing speeds across your website’s thus making lightning-fast decisions about whether it is worth reading. Research suggests that on the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit. Even though users tend to spend more time on pages with more information, the best-fit formula suggests that they spend only 4.4 seconds more for each additional 100 words.

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Second, web users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold, and although they do scroll, they allocate only 20% of their attention below the fold. This data suggest that blog/web writer you shouldn’t ignore the fold and create endless pages for two reasons:

  • Long pages continue to be problematic because of users’ limited attention span. People prefer sites that get to the point and let them get things done quickly. Besides the basic reluctance to read more words, scrolling is extra work.
  • The real estate above the fold is more valuable than stuff below the fold for attracting and keeping users’ attention.

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Third, the pattern of gazing for content follows the F pattern. This knowledge comes from an eyetracking study that analyzed how 232 users consume content in thousands of Web pages. The findings suggest a dominant reading pattern looks somewhat like an F and follows these pattern:

  • Users first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area. This initial element forms the F’s top bar.
  • Next, users move down the page a bit and then read across in a second horizontal movement that typically covers a shorter area than the previous movement. This additional element forms the F’s lower bar.
  • Finally, users scan the content’s left side in a vertical movement. Sometimes this is a fairly slow and systematic scan that appears as a solid stripe on an eyetracking heatmap. Other times users move faster, creating a spottier heatmap. This last element forms the F’s stem.

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This research has helped web designers create more effective web pages and blogs. Many guidelines on how to design your blog to facilitate online reading suggests are based on this research. The most important implications of the F Pattern for Web design show the importance of following the guidelines for writing for the Web instead of repurposing print content:

  • Users won’t read your text thoroughly in a word-by-word manner. Exhaustive reading is rare, especially when prospective customers are conducting their initial research to compile a shortlist of vendors. Yes, some people will read more, but most won’t.
  • The first two paragraphs must state the most important information. There’s some hope that users will actually read this material, though they’ll probably read more of the first paragraph than the second.
  • Start subheads, paragraphs, and bullet points with information-carrying words that users will notice when scanning down the left side of your content in the final stem of their F-behavior. They’ll read the third word on a line much less often than the first two words.
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