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Fewer words on a Web page is smarter

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

In 2008, Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen found that users reading the average Web page read less than 30% of the words on an average visit. Around 20% was more likely.

Nielsen adapted the findings from a European research study and found that users don’t linger on the average Web page. (I would assume the pages in this august publication you are reading right now would be read more thoroughly, but who knows??)

The pages contained 593 words on average and users were timed on the amount of time they remained on each page. Nielsen found that readers spent around 25 seconds on the average Web page of 593 words in the study, plus an additional 4.4 seconds per 100 additional words.

Given the duration of time spent on each page, users would be able to read only 28% of the words if they devoted all of their time to reading.

He assumed a reading speed of 200 words per minute, but because the users in this study were highly literate, he assumed 250 WPM. At that reading speed, users can read 18 words in 4.4 seconds. Thus, when extra text is added to a page, visitors will read only 18% of it.

Also, people don't read during the entire time of a page visit because they need to spend some of their time understanding the page layout, navigation features and images.

On an average visit, users read half the information only on pages with 111 words or fewer.

The lesson, again, for PR people is to tightly write and edit Web text because readers just don’t spend the time reading full pages of text. Instead, paragraphs of text need to be converted more into subheadings and bullet points to enable easier scanning by readers.

What’s more: in shortening the text on Web pages, writers should focus on keywords that search engines can find. The keywords should preferably be used in the heading (not obligatory) and should be finessed into the first 1-3 paragraphs of text so that the keyword/s are a natural fit. Also, the HTML coding behind the text on the page should show the keywords and ideally the index of the page should show the keywords as well. This is called Search Engine Optimization.

Source: Jakob Nielsen

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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