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The Way We Read Content — And What it Means for You

eye-tracking-01

Your audience isn’t reading your online marketing content.

Or so says a recent eye-tracking study conducted by digital marketing company Mediative in Toronto. According to their research, which uses heat mapping and infrared eye tracking to monitor subjects’ web surfing, the method today’s internet users employ for taking in information has very little semblance to our traditional idea of reading.

So how do you write for people who aren’t really reading?

Well, first and foremost, keep your writing short, to the point, and interesting, which I’ll try to do here. But let’s take a look at a few of the key findings and what they mean for your writing style.

Our eyes are scanning 80% of the time we’re on a web page.

Your readers’ eyes only spend about 20% of their time actually taking in information; the rest of the time they’re just jumping around looking for something important.

So give their eyes something to focus on, and make sure it’s your most important content. Whether it’s turning interesting statistics into visuals, or simply adding some big, bold headlines with main ideas throughout your text, your readers’ eyes will seek out information that stands out visually, process it, and (hopefully) it will leave them wanting to read more.

You have 12 to 15 characters to work with.

 According to Ian Everdell, Mediative’s manager of user experience and research:

At the beginning of a headline, or a heading, or paragraph, people are seeing at most 12 to 15 characters — you’re not getting a whole sentence, you’re not getting six words, you’re getting two or three.

This means you have two to three words to grab your reader’s attention and convey the importance of your sentence or paragraph. Note: this does not mean you should start every sentence with your keywords (your writing is bound to sound forced and exhausting), it just means your sentences should be front-ended. Basically, drop the long-winded, flowery lead-ins.

It also means that you should break your writing up as much as possible. If your readers are scanning the first couple of words in each sentence or paragraph, don’t bury your most important, attention-grabbing stuff in the middle of a paragraph — break it out.

The right side of your page is an afterthought.

The study further confirmed the presence of “The Golden Triangle” — the term coined for the heat mapping hotspot in the upper left-hand corner of search pages. Some results also showed participants’ eyes taking in pages in a pattern that resembles a capital “F.”  But one thing is certain: the right side of your web page is an afterthought.

Not that you should neglect this area — after all, there’s no reason it should go to waste. Instead, use this area to highlight information that your most interested readers would want (they may be the only ones who are focused in enough to notice this side of the page). Feature callouts for further information and resources, and make them bold and colorful to grab attention.

Interested in making your content more reader (make that scanner) friendly? Good news: you can easily conduct your own research. This blog post is called “The Way We Read Content” because you take in information in the same way that your readers do. In fact, you probably scanned this blog post (I’m not offended).

So start taking note of the content that holds your attention, and asking yourself why. What compels you to click on a blog post? How far into articles do you normally get? We’d be happy to hear about your findings or thoughts in our comments section!

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