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Scannable Content

Posted By Darren Rowse 20th of February 2006 Writing Content 0 Comments


Make Posts Scannable – One of lessons that I would advise all bloggers to get their minds about is that in addition to fact that the average web user doesn’t usually stay long on a web pagethey also don’t read much of it As a result, scannable content is a userful strategy to use in your blogging.

One study found that only 16% of people read word for word when they are online and another found that the average person only comprehends about 60% of what they read.

Rather than read word for word – web users ‘Scan’ pages for information – looking for key words, phrases and visual cues.

Here are a few tips and techniques you can use for working with your scanning readers and not against them:

  • Lists – This will be no surprise to ProBlogger readers – I’m pretty big on lists and my stats show me its my posts with bullet point lists in them that get linked to ALOT more than similar length posts written in of an essay style. Read more on lists in posts at this list on why lists are good.
  • Formatting – Use bold, CAPITALS, italics, underlining, teletext and to emphasize points. Don’t go overboard as you run the risk of frustrating your reader. Also consider changing font size, color and style to draw your readers eyes to your main points.
  • Headings and Sub Headings – Using headings midway through posts helps with post structure (and many believe with SEO if you use <h> tags) but they also are great for drawing your readers eyes down the page and helping them find the parts of your article that will interest them most..
  • Pictures – clever use of pictures in your posts can grab attention, emphasize points and draw people down into your post. I’ve played around with pictures pretty extensively on a couple of my blogs and find they add a real air of professionalism and interest to posts – there’s nothing worse than long chunks of text on a page – break it up!
  • Borders/Blockquotes – boxes around quotes and key points can similarly get the attention of readers.
  • Space – don’t feel you have to fill up every inch of your screen – rather create spaces because they help readers not to feel overwhelmed and again tend to draw readers eyes to what is inside such space.
  • Short Paragraphs – Web users tend to get lost in large blocks of text – break it into smaller bites and you’ll stick with it for longer.
  • Don’t Bury your Points – Make your main points as clear as you can. One technique to ensure this is to get your main point across in the first few sentences rather than burying it in your conclusion.
About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
  • On related note, I would suggest you choose a readable font, as well. Arial and Times New Roman are the default fonts for the sans-serif and serif font families. Unfortunately, they predate the computer age. They were designed to be printed on and read from paper, not a computer monitor. You would be better off with a newer font such as Verdana, Tahoma, or Trebuchet MS for sans-serif fonts and Georgia for a serif font.

    And don’t make it so dang small on the screen!

  • Just a quick note to say be careful if using underlines to emphasise words, as underlines are commonly recognised as being links to other pages.

  • Neo

    Also can BlockQuote certain important paragraphs to draw attention, usually some wordpress themes contains nice blockquote css styles which could draw more attention.

  • I was more aware than ever that I really do just scan posts as I was reading through this one… I only picked up a fraction of the words as I looked through it but, thanks to your bolding, etc., they were the important ones. This is a great example of how it should be done!

    –dad

  • Su

    Michael Martino:
    “Arial and Times New Roman […] predate the computer age.”

    Would you mind explaining precisely how you reconcile that statement with “distributed with Windows since version 3.1?” Just curious.

    Also, your claim that Arial was designed for printed use is an outright fabrication that would be revealed by 30 seconds of research, or any actual knowledge of the font.

  • I agree with everything mentioned in this post except “Formatting – Use (…) underlining”. I think formating text by underlining is still a no-no on websites since lots of sites do still use underlined text for indicating links. At least it should be used with care. Here at problogger.com, links are indicated differently, so underling text could be used. But lots of visitors do still interpret underlined text as link…

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  • As it happens, I was just digging around in Google Analytics and particularly looking at length of visit and exit percentages over the past week.

    What I see is that for the top 100 pages (42,604 visits this week for these 100 pages)
    the length of visit averages out 3 minutes, and the exit rate is around 74%. Those articles tend to be longer “how-to” posts, not the kind of thing you scan quickly.

    I can use a filter to look at 100 shorter (very scannable) pages that comprise 186 visits between them and find those average 2:02 minutes and 75% immediate exit.

    Of course I have a technically oriented site, but I also do “Opinion” pieces. I looked at 62 of those : 412 visits, 2 minutes sticking around, 86% exit.

    Those figures seem to tell me I shouldn’t worry too much about scanning, but do need to put more work into getting visitors to go look at some other pages.

    For point of comparison, if I look at all the “index.html” pages (which show posts under various topic areas), I have 1,518 visits over 30 pages. The length of visit is just 1:11, and the exit rate drops to 32%. That’s the kind of retention I’d like to get overall :-)

    By the way, these reports are a great way to look at your “goal” pages. For example, I have two primary goals: my rates page and my “advertise here” page. These show decent figures (current week again):

    /rates.html 146 visits, 1:55 time, 49.72% exit
    /advert.html 30 visits, 3:27 time, 40% exit

    Google Analytics can tell you a LOT about what your visitors are doing. You can use it to measure the results of layouts, etc: for example, you could find a couple of similarly popular posts and experiment with font styles and sizes to see how that affects length of visit and retention. Try tiny white text on a black background and see what that does :-)

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  • It does make a lot of sense, People visiting my site would spend a less a minute on the home page.

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  • Good tips on posting concise blog entries that are easily scannable. Thanks!

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  • This is what I was looking for. Right now the Default CSS is also bit messed up so I will have to tune it up and make the content look more readable by the users.

    List and Blockquote was a nice idea. Thanks.

  • jim

    Hi Darren,

    While many people scan there are also people who read every word – despite the time it takes.

    I’m one of those, as I like to suck up all the education I can!

    And I know I’m not alone. The beauty of lists and formatting is that it gives the scanner stuff quickly and also allows the full post reader to read the whole thing too.

    Jim

  • It is good to make posts scannable but that involves a basic knowledge of copywriting as well or you have a chance of making it look good but not worth reading. A good design can help a lot though.

  • Excellent tips, and I really like that you actually use them yourself in this post (it’s a no-brainer but hey). I always kind of had this principle in my mind but was too lazy to put it to work for whatever readers I might get. I guess now that I’m actually interested in having people read my blog and voice opinions, etc. I should take their reading preferences into account!

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  • I don’t like underlining – looks like a hyperlink.

    Color works very well if not abused. Yellow highlight also.

    And it better be short – lots of points – split to other posts and link.