Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen found from research that users read less than 30% of the words in an average visit to a website. Around 20% was more likely. Readers tend to scan instead of reading. Therefore we need to write our website text tightly – we should aim to write fewer words in a web page.
Nielsen adapted the findings from a European research study and found that users don’t linger on the average web page. The above chart shows the maximum amount of text users could read during an average visit to pages with different word counts.
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, 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. My article, “How to write for the internet” may be useful for you to read in more detail about this topic.
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.
Overall, the conclusion is that you should write fewer words on a web page to make it more effective for readers.
By Silvia Arto, Vice President of the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, Chair of the European Regional
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