How Readers Scan Your Page
Whenever you’re creating content for your website or blog, it’s important to understand how your readers will actually consume that content. In a recent post, we outlined the two stages of reading — first comes scanning, followed by more in-depth reading. What we have not yet covered is how visitors to your site are likely to scan your page to determine if the content you are providing will help them solve their specific legal challenges.
In a 2006 study that still serves as an industry benchmark, the Nielsen Norman Group used eye-tracking software to look at how people read content online, including how much time readers’ eyes were focused on different parts of the webpage they were asked to read.
The image below shows the results. The red areas show where readers spent the most time, while the blue areas indicate where they spent the least.
As you can see, readers tend to focus most intently on content at the top-left portion of the page. The study shows that their focus remains strong as their eyes move across the top section of the page — but then they quickly looked down in search of the next main idea. This is where the scanning truly begins.
When readers find the next main idea, they remain somewhat focused, but then before long they start to look down again. Because this pattern resembles the letter F, this has become known as an F-pattern.
Impact on SEO
Google has taken this into account when programming its spiders to crawl web pages to rank them. The search engine spiders (a program that reads web pages to create entries for a search engine index) scan each page in an F-pattern to determine whether the first few words of the page meet a particular search query — and whether the page provides useful content for the reader, starting from the top.
To that end, it becomes important to feature your most impactful keywords and phrases where both readers and search engine spiders are going to notice them most. This includes in headings, subheadings and in the opening and concluding paragraphs of your content. Your heads and subhead should each concisely tell your readers what your page is all about, and the initial paragraphs must strongly and accurately introduce the content you are presenting.
When you do this well, you can make a good first impression and allow your readers to quickly decide that your content is relevant and useful to them.
It’s worth noting that while the Nielsen Norman Group study was conducted about 10 years ago, more recent research has confirmed its results. However, this all came before the advent of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Many experts believe that the same F-pattern concept holds true when it comes to how viewers scan and read pages on these devices, but more research on the topic is needed before we can know for sure.
Understanding where readers are focusing their eyes on your website pages is incredibly valuable as you create your web and blog content. Be sure to remember this important research as you communicate your key messages to your target audience through your website.
View our webinar: Top 3 Online Marketing Strategies for New Lawyers for additional online marketing tips.