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What we read online: 3 indispensable scientific facts

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Most online writing is never read. You can beat the odds.

There are 1.6 million blog posts created every day, according to, not to mention the 140 million Tweets and 1.5 billion Facebook updates!

Sadly, 79 percent of website users scan any new page they come across, and only 16 percent read it word-by-word, according to a study by a content research and training company, Nelson Norman Group.

Here’s three indispensable facts to make your readers click!

1. No hard sell.

Reading spin is actually more taxing on our brains than reading balanced, informative and well-researched articles, the NNG found its studies.

Concise, scannable and objective content is 124% more usable than spin (promotional text), the researchers found. Just repeating: 124%!!!

Usablility was precisely measured:

  • Task time: how quickly users find answers for specific questions about the content.
  • Errors: the number of incorrect answers users gave for questions that had a known answer.
  • Memory: Both recognition memory and recall memory.
  • Site structure: the number of seconds it took users to draw a sitemap, a measure of how well the users had understood the information architecture.
  • Subjective satisfaction: participants’ answers to a questionnaire.

2. Eye to the left!

An eyetracking study of 232 users found a strong F-pattern to the way users read online, NNG found. First, their eyes move holizontally across the top of the content area, then down a bit, and across again (not so far this time) and then more slowly right down the left side.

Acftger scanning around, online readers spend 69% of their time reading the left hand side of the page, 30% on the right side, and 1% bothering to scroll to the right if they need to (so avoid horizontal scrolling at all costs), our friends at NNG find.



3. You will never BELIEVE the new research about what makes headlines work!

Only two out of every 10 headlines get clicked, according to Brian Clark at CopyBlogger (although I wish he’d quote his source for that).

There are old rules for headlines from the esteemed Columbia School of Journalism’s (yukky) website, and new rules for headlines from irreverent Jeff Bercovici at Forbes, but Clark’s 50/50 rule for headlines spans both old and new worlds:

  • Spend as much time writing your headline as you do writing your blog, feature or post

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