Myth #1: People read on the web

People only read word-by-word on the web when they are really interested in the content. They usually skim the pages looking for highlighted keywords, meaningful headings, short paragraphs and scannable list. Since they’re in a hurry to find the very piece of information they’re looking for, they’ll skip what’s irrelevant for them.

So don’t expect people to read content that seems neither easily scannable nor relevant for them, therefore long text blocks, unnecessary instructions, promotional writing and “smalltalk” should be avoided on the web.


How little do users read?

  • In 2013, analytics vendor Chartbeat analyzed Slate and other websites and found that most visitors scroll through about only 50-60% of an article page. What’s more interesting, it seems to be no correlation between sharing and scrolling: people readily share your articles even without reading them – You Won’t Finish This Article
  • The scanning and skimming behavior we develop going through a lot of online materials has an effect even on how we read, comprehend novels and other long-format, printed text – Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say
  • Jakob Nielsen’s eye-tracking study from 2008 indicated that less than 20% of the text content is actually read on an average web page.
  • In another usability test, Nielsen tested different wording styles for a website. Concise, scannable and objective copywriting resulted in 124% better usability.
  • In a usability study Gerry McGovern discovered that only 1 out of 15 users could locate a specific piece of information that was not scannably placed on the page.
  • Steve Krug claims in Don’t Make Me Think that one of the most important facts about web users is that they don’t read, they scan.

When people read word-by-word:

  • If people find the very piece of information they are interested in, they are likely to read the related content word-by-word.
  • Research shows that if people read a piece of content for pleasure, they read more thoroughly and find reading effortless even on a computer screen.
  • Studies show that there are methodical web readers who usually don’t scan but read from top to bottom.
  • Well structured pages that are designed for cursory reading are more likely to be read.