May 24, 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.

  • Get Clicked, Read, Shared & Liked in Portland

    Online, constant problem solving (to click or not to click?) and divided attention (you’ve got mail!) lead to cognitive overload. (One researcher even found that reading on the screen temporarily lowers your IQ more than smoking weed!)

    “Try reading a book while doing a crossword puzzle,” writes Nicholas G. Carr, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. “That’s the intellectual environment of the Internet.”

    So, in this environment, how do we reach readers online?

    Portland Online Writing workshopAt Get Clicked, Read, Liked and Shared — a two-day online-writing Master Class on July 27-28 in Portland — you'll learn techniques for overcoming the obstacles of reading on the screen to get the word out on the web, in social media and via content marketing.

    • Think Like a Friend, Fan or Follower: Offer news you can use, and watch your reach and influence grow.
    • Create Content Marketing Pieces That Almost Write Themselves: Get our fill-in-the-blanks templates for tipsheets, survey stories and more.
    • Cut Through the Clutter Online: Overcome the obstacles of reading on the screen.
    • Lift Ideas Off the Screen: Draw visitors in, increase open rates — even reach nonreaders — with microcontent.
    • Get an online writing workout with Wylie: Take your blog post, webpage or status update from 'meh' to masterpiece when you practice your new skills on your own work.

    Learn more about the Master Class.

    Register for Online Writing Workshop in Portland.


    Browse all upcoming Master Classes.

    Would you like to hold an in-house Get Clicked, Read, Shared & Liked workshop? Contact Ann directly.

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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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