It’s not that we’re illiterate. We just don’t read … at least not websites. It’s not how our brains are wired. We don’t read websites – we scan them.
If you’re like most people surfing the Internet, you’ll click on a link that was posted in social media, you might “read” a few sentences, look for a few exciting words, grow restless and then scamper off to the next page. In fact, with so much information out there from links, videos alongside words and interactive elements everywhere, our brains deal with it by creating shortcuts – scanning, searching & scrolling through the content. (1) In fact, when you scan, you cover only as much of the content as is necessary to accomplish your purpose. (2)
Why do viewers scan a website rather than reading it?
- The web is interactive. We’re used to clicking, swiping and scrolling. This isn’t your favorite paperback novel we’re talking about. We want information. We want the most important information.
- Your website is competing with every other website for your viewer’s attention. When they found your site, did they find the site & information they were looking for? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s why they’re going to scan it and not read it. Instead of spending a lot of time on a single page, they’re going to scan it and make a decision on whether or not to continue … or move on to another site.
- Your viewers are busy. Life is hectic. They don’t have time to read long blocks of text on your site. As one person stated, “If this [long page with blocks of text] happened to me at work, where I get 70 emails and 50 voicemails a day, then that would be the end of it. If it doesn’t come right out at me, I’m going to give up on it.” (3)
Why is this important to your website?
Because people aren’t reading your website. They’re scanning it … and if you don’t have it formatted correctly, they’re going to move on to another site. Yes, even your competitor’s website.
So how do you use scannable text on your website?
- Highlight the keywords using bold or underline formatting or a variation of colors.
- Use bulleted lists like this one.
- Limit a paragraph to one idea. Additional ideas will be skipped if they’re not caught within the first few words of a paragraph).
- Use half the word count of conventional writing.
Here’s an example of a poorly written paragraph … followed by how the same paragraph can be improved.
Fall in the Bitterroot Valley is one of the most beautiful times of the year. While one could make an argument that all seasons in the Bitterroot are fantastic, there’s something about fall in Western Montana that’s extra special. There’s nothing like all the festivals that take place (did someone say “Macintosh Apple Festival?”). hiking up one of the many canyons offers hikers views of the colors of changing leaves. Haunted houses, corn mazes and pumpkin patches are found along Highway 93. There’s a crispness to the air and yet the days are still sunny and warm to enjoy that fall harvest or outside activities. Of course it also reminds us that winter is quickly approaching. With winter though comes a whole other list of wonderful things to do such as skiing, snowmobiling, and much more.
Why is this wrong? Too long. No highlighted words. No bullets. Additional ideas added at the end.
Same concept, better example:
While one could make an argument that all seasons in the Bitterroot are fantastic, there’s something about fall in Western Montana that’s extra special. Here’s some of the reasons that makes this season spectacular:
- Fall festivals like the Macintosh Apple Festival
- Changing leaves in the canyon
- Haunted houses, corn mazes & pumpkin patches
- Ideal weather conditions
Take a look at your website. How’s the text? Is it scannable and does it follow the rules listed above? Ask someone else to take a look at your site and see what they think. It’s overwhelming to apply the above suggestions all at once … so do it a page at a time. Before long you’re site will be so scannable that people might just slow down and spend a little more time seeing what you’re all about.