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How to Write and Format Website Content for the Dual Readership Path

Are people reading your website’s content from beginning to end? Studies show they only read a little (28% to be exact). Here’s what you should do about it.

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by Eric Sharp

If I told you that most people won't read your website's content from beginning to end, would you believe me?

You should.

On the average web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words.

How to Write and Format Website Content

"But Eric, our content is unique and compelling with no grammatical errors. People gobble up every single word!"

Though I can appreciate that confidence, I’ll still lean on years of statistical evidence and bet most readers are instead scanning and skimming your content. (Don’t shoot the messenger here.)

So, how do you write website content to appeal to these lazy, er, busy people that scan and skim?

Use the dual readership path technique.

Studies prove we're typically impatient, in a hurry & consuming website content quickly

Think of the last time you Googled something, clicked to a website, scanned the page's content until you found a headline, bolded word or interesting image and THEN started reading.

Maybe yesterday? Maybe a few hours ago? Maybe even right now?

This reading behavior is called scanning and skimming, and in today's Information Age, it's the common way of reading website content. In 2008, the Nielsen Norman Group concluded that users don’t typically read very much (most only read 28% of a page’s content). This data continues to be tried-and-true in 2015 and this Washington Post piece even suggests that “Scanning and skimming behavior has an overall effect on how we read novels and long-format text.”

f-reading-eye-tracking

Eyetracking visualizations reveal that users often read Web content in an F-shaped pattern (not from left to right, top to bottom)

Consumption of Website Content differs from Printed Content

So, what’s the rush? Why don’t we read website content from start to finish?

The answer lies in the major differences between Web and Print. Unlike printed content, Web content is processed through a non-linear method. The Web is an active medium and too fast-paced for big picture learning. When we’re on a website, we’re on a mission to find something.

web-content-vs-print-content

People read printed content differently than website content

A visceral reaction of get-outta-my-way-non-interesting-content is subconsciously triggered when we start reading on the Web.

So, how can we write and format website content when we’re all a bunch of scanners and skimmers?

Cue the “Dual Readership Path” technique.

What is the Dual Readership Path?

scannable-website-content

Scannable content relies on formatting (e.g. subheads, line breaks, images) to create engagement

Dual readership (or double readership), is writing and formatting your website’s content for two types of readers:

  1. The Analytical Reader (they're going to read your content from beginning to end)

  2. The Scanner & Skimmer (they're going to look for something that catches their eye)

The “Analytical Reader” isn’t going to let anything stand in the way of reading your content. They’re easy to please because they’ve made the commitment and laser focused.

Contrarily, the “Scanner & Skimmer” needs a little more TLC. They need, no, require, content to be scannable. They’re looking for interesting elements to lock in on first — which requires proper formatting.

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How to Write Scannable Content to create a Dual Readership Path

Achieving the dual readership path requires proper formatting (also called “Chunking”) through the use of:

  1. Compelling Subheads Allows readers to get an overview of your content quickly.

  2. Line Breaks Forget some of what you learned in 6th grade English! Line breaks prevent your content from feeling too wordy and intimidating. Don’t be afraid of one sentence paragraphs.

  3. Bulleted/Numbered lists Bullets are an excellent way of breaking down a complex thought. Who doesn’t love a nice list with lots of white space around it?

  4. Numbers There’s power in numbers! They can call out compelling statistics and aid in information processing. Who isn’t enticed by a “Top 10 ____ ” type of blog post? Numbers make headlines boast astronomical click-throughs.

  5. Images 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text. Images help communicate your message faster.

  6. Bolding Bolding crucial points can help the scanner or skimmer zoom in on major points.

  7. Relevant links They guide readers to other content that is relevant & contextual (and back up any points you’re making).

To delve deeper on writing scannable content, check out Copyblogger's 8 Incredibly Simple Ways to Get More People to Read Your Content.

Is this Blog achieving the Dual Readership Path?

Let's take a look and see if I'm following my own advice.

writing-formatting-website-content-example-blog

Writing Website Content takes a New Approach

Traditional writers tend to become a little agitated when people discuss scannable content. Writing scannable content, and using the dual readership path, will — at least slightly — buck against traditional writing thinking and practice.

With that said, I believe context is everything, and the Web’s context is speed, accessibility, and convenience. This new way of accessing the world’s information requires a new approach to writing itself.

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