Unless you have a content-first website like The New York Times or a juggernaut of a blog like TechCrunch, people don’t come to your site for content. Don’t misread that: some of your visitors may well consume some of your content, but most of them don’t visit your website with the intention of reading. Nielsen indicates that users have time for about 20 percent of the content on your page, which affirms that the majority of users don’t read. Rather, they scan.
The last thing you want is for your website to look like a book or magazine (again, unless you’re a content-first website). Not only do your visitors have the attention span of a gnat, but their brains are inherently lazy. That means that large chunks of text on your web pages make visitors feel that they’re being asked to do a herculean task. So how do you make sure your web pages come across as “simple” and “easy”? Try the following:
Draw Their Attention to Things That Matter
Steve Krug says it best: “If your audience is going to act like you’re designing billboards, then design great billboards.”
Since you don’t have the luxury of having visitors’ full attention, you have to maximize that tiny fraction of interest they have. After all, they still need what they need, and you still need them to transact with you. Given that visitors generally don’t read, you need to work with the tools you have:
1. Layouts: Use the “F pattern” to prioritize. People scan from top to bottom, from left to right. If you have voice-of-customer tools, figure out the tasks people are trying to perform on your site, then use those to prioritize from top to bottom, then from left to right. If you just have traffic monitoring tools, use those to figure out what people visit most on your site, what items visitors buy the most and which categories are most popular. Then, from your homepage, prioritize accordingly. Don’t leave their ability to scan your website to chance.
2. Page elements: Create fixation points. Eyes scan in a very specific manner. They go through saccades (i.e., rapid skips) and fixations (i.e., points of interest). This is an area where the brain works in a very specific way, and where there are few exceptions:
- eyes visit irregular shapes before regular shapes;
- eyes visit larger objects before smaller ones; and
- eyes can’t help but notice faces.
This is why a lot of the time buttons for calls to action (CTA) have slight curves around the edges. This is what determines how large the CTA is relative to the rest of the page. This is why images with faces pointed towards the CTA work. You need to use this and guide users to areas you know they need.
3. Navigation: Keep it consistent. The human brain creates powerful associations and loves predictability. Nielsen likes to say that most visitors spend their time on other websites. Consider the following:
- Visitors don’t have the time to learn where all your navigation elements are — they expect them to be at the left or at the top (or both).
- Visitors need to always know where they are relative to the rest of your website, even if they came in through organic search. Use breadcrumbs to inform them where they are, and highlight navigation elements that speak to what pages are active.
You need to think about the user’s cognitive load; the amount of information you’re presenting matters. Keep it down and keep it focused. You also need to take into account their memory load. Don’t make visitors memorize anything they don’t need to, and make sure the system is tolerant of their mistakes.
Make the Attention Count
People don’t read, but they need something from you. First, remember to use the F pattern to prioritize important tasks. Next, draw attention to the right places. Last but not least, keep everything consistent. Your visitors still won’t read, but you’ll be helping them accomplish their tasks. That’s what really matters.
This article originally appeared in Tim’s Retail Online Integration column October 8, 2013
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