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Jakob Nielsen, the guru of web page usability, has literally written the book on eye tracking web pages.
In a comprehensive three-year study using eyetracking technology he studied the eye movements of 232 users in 1.5 million instances to analyze how people interact with website design.
Shown above is a heat map of how people looked at an about us page of a corporate website, an e-commerce page, and a search page on Google.
The red areas are the most seen sections of the web pages, and as you can see they follow an “F” pattern with the focus across the top of the page, scanning down the left side, with a hesitation in the middle where there is usually a photo, information box or a change in discussion.
What Does This Mean For Me as a Blogger?
We have to change how we write.
We’d all like to think that our blog is so compelling that everyone reads every word, but in our fast-paced lifestyle, it just doesn’t happen. So let’s change the way we write to reflect how people read!
- Say the Most Important Information First
Write “newspaper article” style: the Headline states the premise or idea of the article, the first sentence encapsulates the idea in 50 – 75 words, and the remainder of the article fills in the facts behind the idea by answering the 6 Ws (who, what, where, when, why, how).
- Use an Inverted Pyramid of Information
Since most readers won’t read all the way to the bottom of the page, state the most important details at the beginning so the reader can leave your page at any point and still know what you were saying. If you do, then they’ll be back. The old essay style of introduction/point one, two, three/closing just doesn’t work in a blogging situation.
- Use Lists, Bullet Points, Sub-headings
Readers scan down the left side, so use it to your advantage! You can put keywords and important statements in a list, or bold the first words in a paragraph to draw attention, or put subheadings at each paragraph in a different font size or color to signal a change in your writing. A reader should be able to scan your page just reading the headings, subheadings, bolded text and captions on your photos and get the whole idea that you’re presenting in your article.
We have to change how we use images.
This is important to Jakob Nielsen: he’s discovered that there are photos that are ignored and those that are heavily scrutinized.
- Photos of real people who wrote the article or who are the focus of the article are scrutinized and keep people on a page longer.
- Graphs, images, charts that explain the information in the text are also scrutinized.
- Photos of products reviewed or discussed in the article are heavily scrutinized, so the larger the photo the better, unless you have a page of products that are similar with the written information offering the differentiation.
- Stock photos – yes the ones we pay for! – are ignored. Readers see them as filler or decoration and don’t spend any time looking at them.
We have to think about where we put things on the page.
Since we know people are scanning down the left side, we put the most important things on the left.
- Making money with pay-per-click ads or other advertisements? Put your sidebar on the left.
- If what you have to say is the most important, put the sidebar on the right so the navigation feels tucked away, and your opinions are first and foremost.
- Stock photos serve a purpose, but put them on the right side so the those who scan can easily skip them. In order to make the line of sight (the direction the person or other items in the image is facing) point to the center of the page, flip the photo if possible.
- Product images go on the left, with the review on the right.
I hope this helps you grab reader’s attention and get your ideas across to more people.
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