Properly formatting website copy makes your webpages easy to scan.
VISITORS COME TO YOUR WEBPAGE. BUT DO THEY ACTUALLY READ WHAT YOU WRITE? Probably not. More likely they scan the page—and this is where the art of formatting website copy is essential.
Users today take only seconds to decide if they think a webpage is worthwhile; If they don’t immediately think the page has what they’re looking for, it’s just so easy just to go back to the search page and pick the next entry.
There’s no point in fighting the fact that users don’t read content; they scan. A comprehensive eye-tracking study by the Nielsen Norman Group showed that “on the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.” You can counteract scanning “shortcuts” by using proven techniques that take advantage of how users scan content.
There are a variety of factors that will affect how users scan a webpage. These include:
The type of task, such as doing research, considering a purchase, browsing for new information
The page layout
The reader’s level of interest, motivation, and focus
The type of page content, such as primarily text, images, or product listings
Personal characteristics, such as a tendency to scan even when motivated versus generally taking a detailed approach to reading digital content.
When you understand scanning patterns, you can create digital content that balances how to increase user comprehension, provide a great user experience, and increase the time users spend on your webpages (also know as website stickiness).
We can study how users scan content to generate better content.
Studies like the one conducted by the Nielsen Norman Groups use heat maps to detect where visitors focus when they first land on a webpage, and then how they proceed to view the page. Significantly, this will depend on many factors related to the particular page and user intent.
The following sections describe common scanning problems– and how we can leverage them to increase conversion, lower bounce rates, and more.
1. F-Shape Pattern: The Most Common Way Users Scan Content
The F-shape pattern has the broadest application across all types of digital content. It is especially useful with pages that are text-heavy and don’t have much formatting. This is how users often scan content when efficiency is important and when aren’t interested enough to read every word. The F-shape describes how users view the content area of the page only—not when users land on a new section. In that case, they’ll spend more time examining top and left-hand navigation bars.
How Users Scan Content:
Top bar of the F: The user reads horizontally across the upper part of the web copy.
Lower bar of the F: The user then moves down the page a bit and again move across the page to the right, but for a shorter distance than the upper bar.
Vertical Bar: The user vertically scans the left side of the page’s web copy.
Implications for Content Creation:
WithF-shape scanning, people miss much of your content. Using proven readability techniques (discussed below) is the best way to counteract this problem. In particular:
Value Proposition: Create a strong top line (or several lines) that emphasizes your value proposition and clearly states the purpose of the page.
Key Sub-Topics: The center of the diagonal area should contain important sub-topics.
Important Content/CTA: The lower bar should consist of short paragraphs or bits of information with important content, such as your CTA.
Keywords: Put your most important words (such as keywords) toward the beginning of each line, especially on the lower bar.
White Space: Include enough white space for visual comfort.
2. Z-Shape Pattern: How Users Scan Pages with Minimal Content
Pages that are not text-centered and have only a few key elements call for a Z-shape layout. You might imagine this as a landing page with a headline, several bullet points, and a call-to-action (CTA).
How Users Scan Content:
Top of Z: User scans the upper section horizontally, from left to right
Diagonal: Next, the user moves on the diagonal line, down and to the left.
Bottom of Z: Finally, the bottom area is again viewed from left to right.
Implications for Content Creation:
Logo: The top-left, the starting point, would be a good place for the logo.
USP: The top section would contain the main component, or USP (unique selling proposition), you want visitors to view, such as an action-oriented headline.
Secondary CTA: The next natural stop is top-right, which could work for a secondary CTA, such as a login.
Hero Image: The central area should keep users interested but doesn’t stop them from scanning down the diagonal line. This element might be a hero image or brief text.
CTA Promotion: The beginning of the lower section provides helpful information that promotes your CTA.
Main CTA: Draw attention to the CTA in the bottom section.
3. Layer-Cake Pattern: For Users that Value Efficiency
A layer-cake layout is great for B2B content, in which business people need to quickly get the gist and quickly identify content the most relevant content. In this circumstance, copywriters must set up written content, especially subheads, in a logical order. Formatting techniques should enhance readability.
How Users Scan Content:
Top section: Think about someone who loves frosting on a cake. The title and top section is the premium frosting area; it gets the most attention.
Subheads: Next, users focus on subheads—the lower layers of icing. Visitors scan the subheads top to bottom, only stopping to read paragraphs if a particular subhead tickles their fancy.
Implications for Content Creation:
Descriptive, clear subheads should clearly indicate the topic of the following paragraph.
The paragraph under each subhead should be narrow and closely relate to its subhead.
Avoid repetition of content.
Put important words at the beginning of subheads.
The Commitment Pattern: The Exception to the Rule
These high-value visitors don’t scan—they read. Reading an article carefully from top to bottom shows commitment; they are highly interested in the topic. Or, they could be motivated by events such as an upcoming exam, an important presentation, or just plain curiosity. While the commitment pattern leads to the greatest comprehension, it is the most time-consuming.
For digital content, this pattern is most likely to occur when the user knows and trusts the source, has brand-loyalty, or thinks they will find the highest quality, credible content on that website or webpage.
How Users Scan Content:
The visitor reads entire paragraphs or even entire pages.
They may quickly scan headlines first to understand the topic covered, but then they return to the beginning and work their way down.
Implications for Content Creation:
High-Quality: Consistently offer and promote high quality, relevant content.
Old or Poor Content: Remove or update old or poor-quality content.
Audience: Develop content based on the priorities and concerns of your audience.
Credibility: Establish your brand as a respected, trustworthy source of information.
Links: Identify authorities in your field; get backlinks from and also outbound links to them.
Social Sharing: Identify ways to get your content shared on the right social media channels.
Mobile versus Desktop: Plan Your Layout for Half of All Web Traffic.
Today, mobile accounts for more than half of all website traffic. Not surprisingly, looking at digital content on a laptop versus a hand-help mobile device changes the way we view content. After looking at several studies, I’ve seen disagreement about designing a page for desktop versus mobile.
How Users Scan Content
Dispersed or F-Shape: The Norman Nielson study shows that F-shaped scanning applies to both desktop and mobile. Other eye-tracking tests, such from the image above, however, show that mobile viewing is more dispersed or spotted; the smaller screen enables people take in more of the entire screen because of its smaller size.
Session Length: Mobile users spend less time on each page than desktop users. However, mobile users read more content overall.
Below the fold: A Google eye-tracking study showed that there is no “above-the-fold” on mobile devices; users readily scroll down the screen. As a result, they read through more content and have better comprehension. Further, although people view websites on mobile for less time than on desktops, their attention is more focused and can be directed to the most relevant area of the site. On desktops, surprisingly, users read below the fold more when the pages were longer.
Testing your layout: When creating content, always check how webpages will be viewed on desktops and mobile devices.
Analyze your company’s website results: As usual, companies will need to test their own content to see what is most popular with their desktop and mobile visitors.
Scanning patterns vary, but readability always matters.
No matter whether you’re working on a product webpage, blog article, email, or other content, readability will always be a primary factor in website effectiveness. Easy reading webpages go hand-in-hand with audience-appropriate page layout—understanding their demographics, intent, and purpose of the page. Here are great readability tips for improving scanning and comprehension:
Copy and Typographic Techniques to Improve Content:
Headings are critical for readability and SEO:
Create a meaningful H1 title: H1 is your on-page title, the first thing the viewer sees. It should convey what’s in the article, clearly and without hype. Also, the H1 is the primary place for your keywords.
Provide well-ordered H2 subheads: Your main subheads serve several purposes. They should provide a logical flow, help break up text-heavy pages, and help readers quickly identify the information they want. Use H2 subheads at least every few paragraphs. While the heading hierarchy moves down through H6, they are usually limited to H1, H2, and sometimes H3.
Use chunking: Users’ eyes get tired when reading large blocks of text. Break them up in short chunks with frequent subheads, short paragraphs, and bulleted or numbered lists
Create distinct subhead sections: The body copy underneath each subhead section should be directly related to the subheading. As for length, each subhead section should have roughly one to three paragraphs; each paragraph should have ideally no more than three sentences. Provide a narrow focus for each section and avoid repetition between sections.
Engage your readers from the start, then with emphasis:
Focus on your first sentence: Some readers will instantly gauge your article by the first sentence, so make it count. An interesting fact, statistic, or question can grab this initial attention.
Writing an engaging intro paragraph: Many people will continue past the first sentence to understand the thrust of the article and determine if it’s worth moving ahead. Make it engaging, descriptive, and benefit-oriented. Interestingly, an eye-tracking study from EyeQuant showed that 95% of subjects read all or part of introductory paragraphs when they were in boldface.
Employ techniques for emphasis: Encourage readers to move forward by using boldface, color, italics, different size fonts, and more (but don’t go crazy!). Users are also drawn to bulleted and numbers lists that highlight interesting details.
Looking sloppy reflects poorly on your brand.
Edit fearlessly: Take a hard line in removing unnecessary content
Proofread: Fix typos, grammar mistakes, awkward phrases, run-on sentences, and other problems that reduce credibility. When possible, have others proofread your work. If you do it on your own, make sure you have a clear head.
Enhancelayout with grouping: Use boxes or borders to visually group small amounts of related content.
Create white space: Chunking, margins around images, and simply leaving open space gives tired eyes a momentary break so they can continue viewing.
Pop important elements: Make your most essential and action-oriented elements pop—such as your key benefits and CTA.
Guide and focus viewers: Highlight important page elements and lead viewers through the page using“visual hierarchy” signals. These include the size of images and text, contrasting colors, column and grid alignment, and proximity between different elements on landing pages.
Leverage the Left-Side: According to this study from the Nielsen Group, the left side of the page gets more attention (80%) than the right (20%) across all articles, e-commerce sites, and search engine results. This reflects the F-shape scanning pattern discussed earlier.
Use high-quality images: The Nielsen Norman Group study concluded that large, high-quality images draw attention and encourage people to move forward in the article. They responded especially well to people facing forward, who seemed inviting and approachable.
Leverage How Users Scan Website Content.
Your digital content takes many forms, from blog articles to emails, to product pages, and more. While the readability and scanning tips offered in this article are a great place to start, nothing is guaranteed. To figure out what works for your content, let testing be your watchword. Test how audiences respond to various layouts and content formatting, and work with writers and designers who are knowledgeable about these issues.
For high-quality content that improves website results, choose Boston-based Westebbe Marketing specializing in high-performing original content.Contact us online, call us at (617) 699-4462, or email us.
It’s a common question among new WordPress users: “How can I boost WordPress SEO without plugins?” Fortunately, WordPress has a lot of SEO functionality you can use “right out of the box.” While you might want to jump into plugins right away, that’s just not practical for many people. While it’s a user-friendly application, it still takes time to learn and get comfortable with WordPress. This is especially true if you don’t have hands-on experience building or managing a website.
SEO is all about getting people to your site. But once you get a visitor, how do you get them to stay there? Do they interact with the site, or do they vanish into thin air (and go to your competitor’s site)? There are many things a copywriter can do to improve website stickiness and lower the bounce rate. Follow the advice in the article, and you can improve search engine results, traffic, visitor engagement, and lead generation.
First, some definitions about website stickiness and bounce rates:
What is website stickiness?
Stickiness is a term for keeping people on a website longer, which generally means they look at more pages within the site and interact with content. Search engines prefer sites that are sticky and track how long users stay on a site as a result of an organic search.
What is bounce rate?
This is a calculation that represents the percentage of visitors who enter the site and then leave, rather than continuing to onto other pages of the website. Exact definitions can vary from just looking at one page or leaving after just a few seconds. You want your bounce rate to be low, indicating that they find your site to be valuable. Or, as Avinash Kaushik, a well-known business analyst, put it, “I came, I saw Yuk, I am out of here.”
What is a typical bounce rate?
The short answer is that there is no typical bounce rate. For that reason, it’s also difficult to define “good” and “bad” bounce rates. The figures below bear this out:
A B2B website has an average bounce rate of 25-55%
According to ConversionXL, landing pages have an average bounce rate of 60%-90%. However, another source that notes that, for landing pages, the main traffic sources are PPC and social media ads—and the ideal percentage is up to 40%.
For homepages and service pages, organic search is the most important traffic source. The importance of bounces is medium. The ideal percentage is less than 60%.
It’s difficult to know how to improve website stickiness,. Remember that you can expect bounce rates to vary based on industry and niche, where the traffic comes from (Google calls this the channel), type of website, and type of web page.
Here are some examples illustrating how bounce rate averages differ according to website type and industry:
What is the right bounce rate for your website?
A good piece of advice to help learn how to improve website stickiness for your site is to set a benchmark and goals for your own website, analyze bounce rates over time, see what works for your specific company, and adjust website content accordingly.
Now that we’ve covered the basics about stickiness and bounce rate, we can get down to how to improve stickiness if you are a copywriter.
Website stickiness Tip #1: Ensure quality and readability.
If you read my blog articles regularly, you hear a lot about publishing only high-quality copy. It’s my #1 tip for almost any aspect of copywriting, including how to increase website stickiness.
Google designs its search algorithm based on your audience’s behavior, so in the end, it always comes down to whether your audience likes your content and comes back for more. When in doubt about content, be audience-centric and not self-serving. There are many aspects of what makes content high quality.
First is to write for a specific audience or audience persona. This will help you determine a relevant topic and what type of information to include. When thinking about how to increase website stickiness, pay special attention to readability and how easy it is for the reader to find what they are looking for.
Website stickiness Tip #2: Leverage page titles and subheads
Again, we’ll start with some definitions about page titles (the H1 tag) and subheads (H2, H3, H4 tags–and down the line):
What is the H1 Tag?
Also known as the post title, the H1 Tag is the title that shows up on the webpage itself. It’s the first thing the user sees when they land on the page, so it must capture their attention. Note: Don’t confuse it with the HTML “page title” (also known as the meta tag, HTML title tag, or SEO title), which shows in the browser window and as the title in the search engine results page snippet.
What is the H2 Tag?
The web page should be set up with a hierarchy of heading tags. First is H1, as defined above. Logical subheads would be set up hierarchically with H2, H3, and H4 tags (and down to line).
Here’s how copywriters can optimize H1 and subheading tags as a way to improve website stickiness:
How to Optimize Your H1 Tag:
Your H1 page title is the first place where the copywriter can affect stickiness. If it doesn’t immediately capture the audience, they may leave very quickly. Most important, it should clearly and correctly indicate what the article is about. Again, if you mislead the user they will likely move away from the page and your website. Make it useful—not self-serving or overly hyped.
How to Optimize Your H2 Tags:
If the reader decides to read the content on the page, you’ve won your first stickiness battle. The next step is to engage your audience and help them move smoothly through the content. One way to do this is making it easy for them to scan the article to tell them what to expect and determine if the content is relevant. This is where your H2 and H3 subheads can help you boost website stickiness.
In addition to helping your reader scan, subheads help them find the information they are specifically interested in. Equally important, the content should closely reflect the subhead it falls under, or both the reader and Google will become confused. An adjunct of this is to have each subsection focus on a discrete idea. Be sure to include your keywords (or synonyms), but don’t overdo it or inappropriately force it, or Google and your readers will be turned off and your bounce rate will jump.
Website Stickiness Tip #2: Improve website stickiness through ease and emphasis.
I don’t want to say that your readers are lazy, but they are busy and easily distracted. Make it easy for them to digest content by making sentences short, easy to understand, and varying in length. Likewise, short paragraphs aid comprehension, break up the copy, and add some eye-calming white space. As for specific words, avoid hype, jargon, or complicated words when an easy one will do.
Website Stickiness Tip #3: Use formatting wisely.
Another way to make reading easier is with the smart use of formatting. Numbered lists, bullet points, and call-outs lists draw attention to interesting details, break up the page, and keep the reader interested. Other ways to help the reader call attention to important details include care use of boldface, italics, underlining, and colors.
Website Stickiness Tip #4: Know how much information.
Determining how much information to provide on each page is tricky. Again, there’s no single answer. For SEO, Google likes to see at least 300 words per page. But again, you need to judge page length based on what is useful for your readers.
Too little and your readers might be frustrated by not having enough decision-making information. Too much information and your risk overwhelming them. Some of this comes down to what your audience likes and the type of page (blog article, product page, contact us page). Each type of page has opportunities to make it appealing, readable, and optimized to decrease bounce rates and increase conversion.
Website Stickiness Tip #5: Learn how to boost stickiness through internal links.
Internal links are helpful for several reasons. They help SEO, but they also help readers. Logical internal links help your audience find related information if they want to know more about the topic. Up to several internal links on a page can lead visitors to helpful, relevant resources. Some people recommend many more, up to a dozen or more, but I find too many links within paragraphs confusing and difficult to read.
I’m going to repeat the previous paragraph in 2 different ways so you can see what I mean (Note that the links in the paragraph are fake!):
Example 1 – Too Many Links:
Internal links are helpful for several reasons. They help SEO, but they also help readers. Logical internal links help your audience find related information if they want to know more about the topic. Up to several internal links on a page can lead visitors to helpful, relevant resources. Some people recommend many more, up to a dozen or more, but I findtoo many links within paragraphs confusing and difficult to read.
Messy, right? Instead, cut down the number of link or find alternate ways to display them. Here’s the same paragraph—you still have internal links, but it’s easier for the reader to make sense of and to find the extra resources they may want.
Again, the sample paragraph below includes fake links.
Example 2 – fewer, but more useful, links:
Internal links are helpful for several reasons. They help SEO, but they also help readers. Logical internal links help your audience find related information if they want to know more about the topic. Up to several internal links on a page can lead visitors to helpful, relevant resources. Some people recommend many more, up to a dozen or more (source), but I find too many links within paragraphs difficult to read.
Read more about internal links here. Here are more resources about SEO.
Much better! The paragraph above shows that you can have several links even in a short paragraph without overwhelming the reader. Instead, you made it easier for your website visitor to access related pages and direct them to other valuable content—increasing stickiness.
Successful copywriters focus on how to increase stickiness.
A copywriter’s first duty is to the reader. However, it would be silly to suggest that the modern copywriter doesn’t have to be mindful of website performance. It just takes a little more knowledge and practice. If you use external creative resources, look for a freelance copywriter who creates SEO-friendly content that engages your audience and keeps them on your website.
How much time does a typical reader spend on reading each blog article, a trait also known as “stickiness” or durability? The quick answer is not much time at all—the average person spends only 37 seconds reading a blog post. Miss that window of opportunity, and you can kiss that potential customer goodbye.