Why visitors only read 20% of your webpage

20%? Please tell me you’re kidding. I don’t spend hours writing a perfectly written article only to ignore four-fifths of it!

This is unfortunately true. On average a user will only read 20% of the content on your page.

There is a very simple reason for this slightly depressing fact… digitization.

You can stop reading this article now because I already ruined the ending (more details later). But if you want to know why people scan and how to deal with it, read on.

If you want to learn more about writing for the web from someone who has worked in the field for years, try our advanced writing or writing training courses online.

Scanning

People don’t read a web page the same way they read a book or newspaper. When people browse the web, they are looking for quick answers.

It’s not just the educated guess of an online writer. Eye tracking studies found that the majority of people read content online according to an “F” model.

The image below shows you what the F pattern looks like. It’s a heat map, so the red parts are where people spent the most time searching and the blue parts the least.

The F-shape explained

As you can see in the image above, the heat map generated by the eye tracking study forms an approximate shape of F. Let’s break down each part of the shape.

  • The horizontal movement through the first paragraph forms the top of the F.
  • Second, slightly lower horizontal movement that covers a shorter area than the first.
  • Vertical swipe of the left side of the content.

Why do people scan?

Are we getting lazier? Less literate? The continued popularity of doorstep novel series, such as A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin, suggests not.

You could say that it is simply more difficult to read a lot of text on a computer screen. It tires the eyes and therefore makes it much less enjoyable than reading something on paper.

But there’s another simple reason people scan this way: they are looking for specific information and they don’t want to read the entire article to find it.

Think about the behavior of a person using a search engine. They finally seek an answer to a question.

They will click on a link and scan the content for that response. If they can’t find it quickly and easily, they’ll leave, go back to the search engine and try another link.

How to write for scanners

Here are some other things you can do to make life easier for scanners, which should always be your goal when writing content online:

  • Create bulleted lists like this one.
  • Use lots of descriptive captions.
  • Write in short paragraphs.
  • Give each point or idea its own paragraph.
  • Create lots of white space.
  • Highlight key points in bold.
  • Put important information at the beginning of sentences and paragraphs.

You can see on this post that I use only one or two sentence paragraphs. It helps create the white space I mentioned so that people can easily scan the article for whatever they want.

me too use simple language so that someone scanning the copy can easily identify what they are looking for without having to struggle with technical or marketing jargon.

Keep everything clear and easy to navigate. Remember, you are dealing with fickle readers who will make a decision on the usefulness of your content in seconds.

I’m not saying you should make things silly for your readers, but yeah, actually that’s exactly what I’m saying. Far from condescending them, you will make their life easier and they will thank you.

If you got into writing online because you wanted to be the next great literary, you’re in the wrong job. It’s about providing information as quickly and clearly as possible.

Spoilers welcome

You should also aim to get the main point of the article in the first two paragraphs.

I mentioned earlier that I messed up the end of this post. The point of the article is that people only read 20% of the content because they are scanning, and like I said, you could have stopped there.

You’re not writing a detective story, so forget to build a mystery and reveal the big twist at the end.

Explain your main point (s) to people as early and as clearly as possible. Then go into more detail in the rest of the article for those who want to read it.

Did you scan this post?

I would be interested to know what part of this article you actually read, or what part of an article you think you read in general. Please let me know in the comments.

I promise I won’t be offended if you only say 20%.

To learn more about online writing …

12 elements of a user-friendly blog page

12 practical tips for writing a better web copy


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