Cut webpages in half

Shorter webpages nearly 60% more usable

When usability guru Jakob Nielsen wanted to measure the effects of short web copy, he studied a webpage about Nebraska.

Cut webpages in half

Half as big is twice as nice Short webpages outperform long ones. Image by Danielle MacInnes

One of the original passages said:

Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions that draw large crowds of people every year, without fail. [Last year], some of the most popular places were Fort Robinson State Park (355,000 visitors), Scotts Bluff National Monument (132,166), Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum (100,000), Carhenge (86,598), Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (60,002), and Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park (28,446).

Then Nielsen rewrote the webpage, taking out half of the words. The rewrite:

[Last year], some of the most-visited places in Nebraska were Fort Robinson State Park (355,000 visitors), Scotts Bluff National Monument (132,166), Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum (100,000), Carhenge (86,598), Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (60,002), and Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park (28,446).

Short webpage: 58% more usable.

Then Nielsen tested both pages for metrics including:

  • Task time: the number of seconds it took users to find answers to questions like “On what date did Nebraska become a state?”
  • Errors, or a percentage score based on the number of questions readers answered incorrectly
  • Memory — a recall test asking such questions as “Please list any names of tourist attractions you remember from the site.”
  • Subjective satisfaction, or how participants felt about the site’s quality, ease of use and likeability. This was measured by questions like “How frustrated did you feel while working on this site?”

The result: The shorter rewrite was 58% more usable.

Nearly half again more usable just by cutting out half the words? That’s a pretty good ROI on concise copy!

The 124% solution

Finally, Nielsen made the Nebraska webpage more:

  • Concise
  • Scannable
  • Objective

Here’s his rewrite:

[Last year], some of the most popular places were:

  • Fort Robinson State Park
  • Scotts Bluff National Monument
  • Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum
  • Carhenge
  • Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer
  • Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park

With just these three tweaks, he more than doubled usability, to 124%.

How do you make your webpages shorter?

  • Cut Through the Clutter Online

    Because “short is too long for mobile”

    “What’s slightly annoying” on a desktop can be “overwhelming” on a smartphone, according to the authors of User Experience for Mobile Applications and Websites.

    Cut Through the Clutter Online in Chicago

    Indeed:

    • It’s 48% harder to understand messages on a smartphone than on a laptop.
    • People read 20% to 30% slower online. But they read about 30-milliseconds-a-word slower on mobile devices than they do on desktops.
    • Attention spans on mobile devices are 50% shorter than on laptops. So while mobile reading takes longer, people spend less time on a page when reading on their phones.
    Learn three tweaks that will increase webpage usability by up to 124%.

    How do you avoid overwhelming mobile visitors?

    At Writing for the Web and Mobile — our two-day hands-on web-writing master class on June 12-13 in Chicago — you’ll learn proven-in-the-lab best practices for increasing webpage usability up to 124%. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

    • Pass The 1-2-3-4-5 Rule for online paragraphs. Tip: Test it on your smartphone for best results.
    • Increase usability by 58% with one simple step.
    • Make long webpages easier to read on a smartphone with three quick tips.
    • Use a cool — free! — tool for testing your webpage’s clarity. Get a paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of ways you can measurably increase readability.
    • Avoid The Mobile Paradox: The No. 1 activity for mobile users is wasting time. But mobile users get “visibly angry” at verbose sites that waste their time. How do you avoid enraging readers?

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