Jakob Nielsen’s studies point out how people read web stories and how best to organize info.
Less is more. This is the general view to keep in mind when writing for the average internet consumer. With the dwindling attention spans brought on by today’s multitasking generation, Jakob Nielsen has published his findings on how best to grab web readers’ attention.
“F” for faster
In reading a story on the internet, Nielsen has found that readers consume stories in an F-shaped pattern. That is, the more they read, the less attention they devote. The top line two is usually given complete attention while readers pay less close attention from left to right the further into the story the venture. This means that if you as a writer need to get important information across, best do it in the beginning.
Headlines = clicks
Similarly when writing headlines for online stories, short, sweet and to the point is the way to go. Nielsen reports that the most consumable headlines are usually five words, are predictable and very up-front in what the story is about. Moreso than print, readers online want to know exactly what they will be reading about and having a straightforward headline is how they know.
When using hyperlinks, Nielsen points out that good use of links is essential, as the eye is naturally drawn to links. Using the standard blue on white backdrop is the most noticeable color scheme for links. As opposed to shortening links to just one word, good links are used on descriptive phrases, usually with an action or phrase starting things off. Above all, links must be noticeable and understandable if you’re to truly reap the benefits.
The first point is not terribly surprising, since much of it falls in line with certain print journalism practices. Frontloading the important info of the the story is the exact same as the inverted pyramid style of newspaper writing, while keeping sentences and paragraphs brief is also something that is normally sought in standard AP newspaper style.
My experience with headlines has been a bit circular, as I started out in web where I learned to have headlines be as short and to the point as possible. I had no idea back then that a website’s search results would depend on how blunt the headline was. Then, as I worked more into print and design, I started to drift closer to the more creative, frilly headlines that work for print. I then had to train myself back into headlines that work for the web, sometimes changing the two for the shovelware on the website.
Lastly, my previous education on links has mostly been intuitive. Like reading or riding a bike, the more you observe how links are used and practice using them yourself, the more you realize how well they work or don’t. Honestly, your biggest asset is going to be picking the right color scheme to have your links jump out.
Some of this stuff may seem obvious to those who have worked with the concepts before but Nielsen has done something better and expressed what works and what doesn’t in fine detail — something not everyone who already knows about this stuff can do. Going forward, these studies can be excellent tools for upcoming web writers to fully understand how to be successful.