August 17, 2017

Eyes on you

Page view time is not a magic number

The more words on a webpage, the longer visitors will stay.

But is that really the best metric to measure? What if you could engage users on a page for half the time, yet have them remember one-third more of the content?

Simplify layout to improve readability

Just looking Web visitors may look longer at a webpage that’s filled with dense copy. But is looking the right metric? Image by Luca Iaconelli

That’s what happened in a 2005 usability study by Jakob Nielsen and Kara Pernice Coyne.

Simplify layout to improve readability.

For the study, researchers tested the original version of a story about New York City restaurants. Then they revised it to:

  • Increase white space
  • Condense the main idea
  • Remove unnecessary images
  • Reduce column widths
  • Add a graphic for each restaurant ranking

The result: Visitors spent about twice as much time with the original page. But they remembered 34% more of the content on the revised page.

Webpage white space before and after

Breathing space The webpage on the left engaged visitors for twice as much time, but the one on the right increased recall by 34%. Image by Neilsen Norman Group

This study is another argument against using web analytics alone to determine success. If your visitors spend more time on your webpage, have you succeeded? Or are you just wasting their time?

Tight writing increases understanding.

Nielsen and Coyne also ran a similar test on more complicated content — a story from The New York Times about Australians who received the Nobel Prize.

By tightening the copy and adding bullets and subheads, the researchers increased comprehension by 12% and increased satisfaction.

Bottom line: Make your copy easier to scan online.

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Source: Laura Ruel and Nora Paul, “Eyetracking points the way to effective news article design,” Online Journalism Review, March 13, 2007

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