Understanding How Users Scan Content

July 26, 2017

Reading online is a little different than the way you read textbooks high school and college.  Today, when people find content on the web they are interested in, they scan it first.  Users have grown accustomed to quickly moving through information, only stopping at the parts that are important to them.  Eye tracking studies have shown online readers scan information in the shape of the letter “F”.  Sound random?  Here’s why it isn’t, and why it matters to your business’ website.

What Is the F-Pattern?

If you’re having trouble seeing how this works, know it isn’t obvious nor is it how we are trained to think about reading, which is traditionally top down. When scanning info, and especially web-content, however, the mind looks for what’s most important. Here’s how it works:

The top of the “F” is formed when users start at the top of your page, reading your headline and subsequent description of the article. Readers move their attention back to the left side of the screen and move their eyes down the page until they come across another heading or information that catches their eye. This information is usually the part of the content they were hoping for when they searched the topic and will spend some time reading it, creating the second horizontal line in the “F.”

Once the reader has gotten the bulk of the information they want, they will continue to scan the page, stopping if anything else catches their eye, but they are most likely moving on to another page of your site or leaving.

Why Does It Matter?

Understanding this pattern of website scanning is important to your business and its success. If your website layout and content do not match the F-pattern, users may waste time trying to find what they need. If they feel like they’ve wasted too much time, or that the valuable content they are looking for is impossible to easily scan, they’ll likely move to a site where scanning is easier. When you plan your content with the F-pattern in mind, you give users what they want—even if they don’t know it.

Read the full article here.