Your website’s readability is a very important aspect of a web user’s experience of your site. Modern web users no longer have the time to slog through web pages for useful information; to keep their attention and to prevent them from leaving, you need to provide them with content that is easy to read in a straightforward way.

How we read online

Jakob Nielsen is a web usability expert. He backs the idea that we (humans) ‘forage’ information. We hunt for facts on the web and we move on if there doesn’t seem to be any ‘food’ around.

Nielsen’s studies reveal that we read differently when we are sitting in front of our computer screens than when we are reading a printed publication:

–              We don’t read web pages word-for-word; in fact 79% of users only scan the pages.

–              We read slower from computer screens than when we read ‘offline’.

–              Our eyes take more strain when reading on a computer screen.

The fact that the majority of browsers only scan (or skim) your website pages means that you have a very short time to ‘grab’ the user’s attention. His ‘food’ must be readily available in order to keep him on your website (for at least longer than thirty seconds).

Write scanable content

If 79% of the visitors to your website only scan the pages then you need to make sure that you provide them with easily scanable copy. You can’t go wrong if you write your copy within the following guidelines:

–             Check your headings and subheadings – make sure that they are short and compelling.

–          Begin your copy with an inverted pyramid introduction and include the most important facts first (almost like starting with the conclusion or serving the dessert ahead of the entrée!).

–             Users tend to skip full screens of solid copy, so stick to short paragraphs with bits or ‘chunks’ of information. Remember that the modern browser does not have much time and has a short attention span.

–        Use bulleted and numbered lists – these slow down the scanning (‘foraging’) eye and present information in a concise manner.

–              Write less. Remember again that people have a short attention span.

–              Choose a font that is easy to read and use that font consistently (I prefer Arial or Times Roman).

–              Make sure that your hyperlinks are clear and stand out.

Clean layout and design of your website

You need to remember that overall layout and design also contributes towards the visitor’s positive experience of your website and the readability thereof.

Look at your website through the eyes of a new visitor who is in a hurry to find information and ask yourself these questions:

–              Have you chosen a structured and concise design over a visually cluttered one (less is better)?

–        Does your website have a clear navigation system? Remember that a website that is not easily navigable will cause frustration and confusion.

–             Have you used a simple background and have you used contrasting colours between your text and the simple background (Black text on white has better readability).

And, very importantly – proofread, proofread, proofread. Check for grammar and spelling. Errors will reduce the visitor’s trust in a website.

By applying these principles, you will be able to successfully create a website that is more readable. Provide your reader with content that is easy to read and you will see an improvement in your website ‘stickiness’ and the amount of time that a visitor stays on your site.

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About the author

Renate Venier is a recent graduate of the Writing for the Web Course at  SA Writers’ College

Photo credit: flickr.com_erangi2