Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen found from his research that users reading the average web page read less than 30% of the words on the page in an average visit. Around 20% was more likely. Therefore we need to write tightly for web text. 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 newsletter you are reading right now would be read more thoroughly, but who knows?☺) [The above chart shows the maximum amount of text users could read during an average visit to pages with different word counts.]
People read only 20-30% of the words on a web 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.
Write and edit tightly on web pages
The lesson, again, 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 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 as part of search engine optimization.
Graph by Nielsen Norman Group.
Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. His wide-ranging career includes roles as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer and business manager. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.